The FieldExplorer, a new ground-based field phenotyping platform, has arrived at The Plant Accelerator, the Australian Plant Phenomics Facility’s (APPF) node at the University of Adelaide’s Waite Campus, bringing new capability to accurately measure the performance of plants in different environments non-destructively and over time.
“The Field Explorer is a true turnkey platform, taking plant phenomics to the paddock,” says Dr Darren Plett, APPF’s Technology and Development Lead, and also based at the University of Adelaide.
It has a hydraulically operated high resolution imaging module that allows for consistent and precise data collection across trial sites, while supplementary halogen lighting means it is able to provide consistent imaging conditions throughout the day and regardless of cloud cover.
The University of Adelaide’s Dr Darren Plett with FieldExplorer
The FieldExplorer combines LiDAR, a laser version of radar/sonar enabling 3D reconstruction of a plant canopy and used for biomass estimates, with visible-near infrared (VNIR) and short-wave infrared (SWIR) hyperspectral imaging and high resolution RGB imaging.
RGB is used for visual trait measurement including disease measurements, colour traits and phenological traits. VNIR and SWIR enable non-destructive measurement of plant physiological and/ or metabolomics traits, ‘invisible traits’ such as photosynthetic parameters, plant nutrient status and disease symptoms.
The APPF had input into the FieldExplorer’s custom development by Crop Traits Pty Ltd and Phenokey in the Netherlands, with the resulting design the first of its kind in the world.
APPF Executive Director Susie Robinson expects strong demand to come from across the Australian research community, spanning both academic researchers and crop breeding companies for use in their trials.
“The features the Field Explorer delivers give us even greater ability to measure critical information about crop growth and health in crop field trials that will contribute to informed decision making on how to improve varieties of crops to increase food production.”
The FieldExplorer has been built with extra on-board power allowing for future sensor developments and requirements and is able to integrate add-ons such as towed sensors like EM38 (used to measure soil water in a root zone using soil electrical conductivity). It has an intuitive user interface on-board displaying automated plot segmentation, status of run and on-board functionalities in real time. With cruise control and 4WD hydraulic drive the FieldExplorer will operate in challenging field conditions and is capable of 8-9 hours continuous use.
Another key element is the advanced software platform capable of pulling together imaging data from different sensors, and fusing the results at a pixel level, resulting in ultra-rich 3D datasets.
A wide range of pilot projects including the measurement of biomass estimates, frost damage, disease infection, and feed quality traits will be undertaken in the 2020 growing season by research and plant breeding organisations across South Australia.
The FieldExplorer will complement the APPF’s range of plant phenotyping capability including the phenoMobile® Lite, airborne imaging, laboratory and greenhouse phenotyping solutions. It will be based at the University of Adelaide’s Waite Campus, at APPF’s The Plant Accelerator node and in 2021 the FieldExplorer will be available for hire.
About the Australian Plant Phenomics Facility
APPF is a world-leading infrastructure facility that underpins innovative plant phenomics research to accelerate the development of new and improved crops, healthier food and more sustainable agricultural practice. APPF’s three nodes are at the CSIRO (Canberra), Australian National University and the University of Adelaide. APPF is funded by the Australian Government under the National Collaborative Research Infrastructure Strategy (NCRIS).
*LiDAR stands for Light Detection and Ranging and measures distances by illuminating with laser light and measuring the reflection with a sensor. Differences in laser return times and wavelengths can then be used to make digital 3-D representations of the target.