DIY Camera Tracking System Captures Plant Movement in Real Time

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Farmers and plant breeders can now build their own automated field camera track system to collect data on dynamic plant traits, as changes occur. The do-it-yourself system can capture videos of plant movement under windy conditions and can capture lodging, a phenomenon that occurs when a plant falls or bends over due to high winds, disease, excess nitrogen in the soil, and other adverse conditions.

To design an automatable camera system that can be used to quantify crop lodging and crop movement under field wind conditions, researchers used a 360FLY 4K hemispherical video camera, industrial curtain track, and a raspberry pi computer.

Constructed field imaging system from University of Minnesota.

The constructed field camera track system. Courtesy of Alex Susko.

The open source camera track system, developed by a team at the University of Minnesota, builds on the work of professor Peter Marchetto, who used a camera on a parachute to take field photos of lodging. The new camera-tracking upgrade allows researchers to record real-time plant traits at different locations in the field.

A specific camera track was developed to photograph small grains under direct wind stress. This track system is made of commercial hardware and electronics and can accommodate 360-degree cameras. It can be adapted to various field dimensions, crops, and sensor systems to achieve high-throughput phenotypic data unmeasurable by other phenotyping systems, such as unmanned aerial vehicles.

The camera track system captured lodging in approximately 15 minutes, saving hours of time compared to manual measurement techniques.

Researchers also took hemispherical videos of crop movement at varying wind speeds at fixed locations and were able to quantify the movement using MATLAB. The videos allowed them to distinguish between the movement of two different oat varieties based on the frequency and magnitude of oscillating stem movements in the wind.

“Since we are interested in the plant response under wind stress, we can operate this system under very windy conditions to obtain videos of plant movement, a novel phenotype,” said researcher Alex Susko.

The technology could be used to quantify a variety of plant traits from detailed images in a field setting, helping to reduce losses in crop yield and potentially leading to improvements in the lodging resistance of plants. Researchers believe that the technology stretches the possibilities of high-throughput phenotyping and that its open source nature could allow for further adaptation to grower and breeder data collection needs.

The design is versatile and inexpensive relative to commercial camera track systems.

“Field camera track systems exist . . . but it’s proprietary and primarily designed for container crop phenotyping,” said Susko. "Our system is open source, less expensive, and easier to construct. It’s my hope that a system like this opens the possibility for the discovery of novel plant phenotypes."

“Existing methods to collect data on lodging, such as hand-grading or drone imaging, don't work for short-term events, and unmanned aerial vehicles are unstable during storms,” said Marchetto. “This new system is specifically designed to withstand inclement weather, which is important for obtaining better data and addressing issues before they become losses in yield.”

The research was published in Hardware X (doi: 10.1016/j.ohx.2018.e00029).

Published: August 2018
Research & TechnologyeducationAmericasImagingcamerasagriculturesenvironmentImage Analysisvideo analysis360 videoopen source camera tracking systemUniversity of MinnesotaBiophotonicsBioScan

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