For the general public, light detection and ranging (LiDAR) technology is a new and exciting innovation that has increasingly been used for commercial, government, and scientific applications. The 3D images produced by a LiDAR system have changed the way individuals, businesses, researchers, and government regulators assess the world in which we live.
As the RedTail LiDAR Systems team prepared to launch the RTL-400, they looked for unique opportunities to demonstrate the product’s capabilities across a broad range of industries. The RTL-400, designed specifically for use on small drones, provides high-resolution, accurately geolocated images needed to make informed business decisions. Agriculture was identified as an important application.
The world-wide need for food requires ever-increasing levels of production, while simultaneously meeting that demand in an environmentally friendly and sustainable manner. Precision agriculture is a farming management concept based on observing, measuring and responding to inter- and intra-field variability. In recent years, the agriculture industry has increasingly adopted drone-based LiDAR technology to support precision agriculture methods, allowing them to make more informed crop and livestock management decisions. One example is the selective application of fertilizers to achieve even yield throughout a field.
To demonstrate the RTL-400’s capability in the area of precision agriculture, RedTail staff researched various agricultural flight options and hit on an idea: What better way to demonstrate the high-resolution, high-accuracy system than in one of the toughest challenges that could be found – a corn maze.
Why fly a corn maze? It represents precision agriculture at its finest with a perfectly planted, monitored, and managed corn field.
The corn maze selected to map was located in New Springfield, Ohio. The Maze Craze corn maze was ranked one of the 10 Best by USA Today. Carved out of 21 acres of corn and including nine miles of winding trails, the 2019 life-size maze is celebrating the 80th anniversary of the classic film The Wizard of Oz. Complete with Dorothy, Toto, the Tin Man, Scarecrow, Lion and the Wicked Witch, the maze was designed to provide hours of fun for young and old.
Developed with technology licensed from the Army Research Laboratory (ARL), the RTL-400 was designed specifically for use on small drones flying at altitudes of up to 400 ft. The RTL-400 incorporates an innovative microelectromechanical system (MEMS), mirror-based laser scanner that rapidly and evenly distributes laser pulses to the ground, moving side-to-side 400 times each second. This rapid line scan rate, coupled with a laser pulse rate of up to 400,000 pulses per second, yields point clouds that are unprecedented in resolution and density.
Unlike other LiDAR systems, the RTL-400 can be operated in two scanning modes. In addition to the line scan mode, the RTL-400 offers a 30 x 30-degree raster scan mode for “stand and stare” missions. The scanning mode can be selected on the fly, providing drone operators unmatched operational flexibility when planning and flying their missions.
The total project scanned and mapped an area of 26 acres. The RTL-400 completed the flight in 15 minutes, flying at an altitude of 120 feet and a speed of 26 miles per hour. The resulting point cloud included over 98 million data points, and the point cloud images had such high resolution that a farmer could easily and accurately estimate crop yield.
“We couldn’t be more pleased with the RTL-400’s performance today. These high-resolution, high-density point clouds can enable farmers to efficiently gather the quality and quantity of data required for precision crop management,” said Brad DeRoos, president and CEO of RedTail LIDAR Systems. “We are excited to work with individual members of the agricultural community to design custom solutions to meet their specific needs.”
The RedTail LiDAR Systems’ RTL-400 combines the flexibility of a UAV with the accuracy of a high performance LiDAR system.The data collected with the RTL-400 can be used for multiple agricultural management, planning and monitoring purposes, including:
- The creation of slope and sunlight exposure area maps
- Monitoring irrigation and fertilizer needs
- Detecting crop damage, analyzing stand counts, and estimating harvest yield
- Identifying and minimizing the impact of pests and disease
- Observing plant growth, calculating grove maturity, and detecting areas of irregularities
- Mapping water flow and catchments
- Monitoring erosion, soil loss, and assessing storm damage
- Assessing livestock foraging needs and determining optimal foraging areas.
The RedTail LiDAR Systems team was excited to develop custom solutions for farmers, and other industry sector professionals who are looking to integrate LiDAR scanning and 3D mapping into their operational workflow.
RedTail LiDAR Systems is a division of 4D Tech Solutions, Inc. focuses on providing innovative technology-based solutions to address government and commercial customer needs. RedTail LiDAR System’s in-house technical expertise – coupled with a full suite of software and hardware design and manufacturing tools – allows it to develop custom LiDAR solutions for manned and unmanned vehicle applications. 4D Tech Solutions, Inc. is a Service-Disabled Veteran-Owned, HUBZone-certified small business.