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‘Skywalker’ - aeronautical technology to improve maize yields

08 April 2013

A low-cost unmanned aerial vehicle is helping agronomists to select the maize varieties that are best adapted to adverse environmental conditions.

Skywalker: the first prototype was deployed in Zimbabwe
Skywalker: the first prototype was deployed in Zimbabwe

Led by Professor Josep Lluís Araus from the University of Barcelona, the Skywalker project is essentially an aerial phenotyping platform.

The remotely controlled aircraft is equipped with spectral (visible and near infrared) reflectance and thermal imaging cameras fitted to the wings; they provide a rapid evaluation of the crop growth, temperature and available soil water for large numbers of maize varieties.

The data will be used to improve the efficiency of maize breeding and speed up the development of drought and low nitrogen tolerant maize varieties for some of the poorest farmers in the world.
The aircraft can stay aloft for between 30 and 45 minutes, at an altitude of 600m and has an average speed of 45km/h. Take-off and landing, as well as the flight plan, is pre-programmed.
The first field tests were conducted in Zimbabwe; the next are planned for Peru.

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