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Potential uses of small unmanned aircraft systems (UAS) in weed research


Correspondence: J Rasmussen, Department of Plant and Environmental Sciences, Faculty of Science, University of Copenhagen, Højbakkegaard Allé 9, DK-2630 Taastrup, Denmark. Tel: (+45) 35 33 34 56; Fax: (+45) 35 33 33 84; E-mail:


Small unmanned aerial systems (UAS) with cameras have not been adopted in weed research, but offer low-cost sensing with high flexibility in terms of spatial resolution. A small rotary-wing UAS was tested as part of a search for an inexpensive, user-friendly and reliable aircraft for practical applications in UAS imagery weed research. In two experiments with post-emergence weed harrowing in barley, the crop resistance parameter, which reflects the crop response to harrowing, was unaffected by image capture altitude in the range from 1 to 50 m. This corresponded to image spatial resolution in the range from 0.3 to 17.1 mm per pixel. This finding is important because spatial resolution is inversely related to sensing capacity. We captured 20 plots comprising a total of about 0.2 ha in one image at 50 m altitude without losing information about the cultivation impacts on vegetation compared with ground truth data. UAS imagery also gave excellent results in logarithmic sprayer experiments in oilseed rape, where we captured 37 m long plots in each image from an altitude of 35 m. Furthermore, perennial weeds could be mapped from UAS images. These first experiences with a small rotary-wing UAS show that it is relatively easy to integrate as a tool in weed research and offers great potential for site-specific weed management.