Researchers Program Drones To Find Virus-Infected Potatoes

Jan 23, 2017

Researchers at Idaho State University have programmed drones to be able to identify potatoes infected with a virus.

Researchers say they've been able to find individual plants infected with potato virus Y, commonly called PVY, with 90 percent accuracy using cameras mounted on drones, The Capital Press reported Friday.

Geosciences assistant professor Donna Delparte said she has successfully tested an algorithm to find PVY from spectral imaging. The algorithm allows machines to separate the PVY from other issues such as field variability and unrelated crop stress.

Graduate student Mike Griffel said the project can detect PVY earlier than people can spot virus symptoms by scouting fields.

"Our premise was to look at all of these wavelengths of light the human eye can't see and look for differences between healthy plants and plants infected with PVY," Griffel said, adding their images had leaf-scale resolution.

PVY is a disease spread by aphids affecting potato seed growers. The researchers shared their findings with seed growers during the Idaho Seed Potato Growers seminar Jan. 17 in Pocatello.

Griffel envisions the technology will eventually enable drones to text GPS coordinates of sick plants to field workers or direct drones to spray and kill sick plants upon detection.

"We feel like we're right on the cusp of taking this to a really fast, efficient way of detecting the virus," Delparte said.

Delparte said she's seeking additional funding from seed growers and other industry sources to leverage more grants and continue the work.

"Our hope is in another round of research and testing, we can tighten that work flow so we get faster and faster and get results back quickly to the grower," Delparte said.