An aerial soil moisture sensor that can provide a detailed map of the water status of a whole field in minutes is being developed by Bristol based SoilSense. The early stage start-up was the audience award winner of Agri-Tech East’s 2017 GROW agri-tech business plan competition.
The co-founders of SoilSense – Maciej Klemm, a Senior Lecturer at the University of Bristol with specialist knowledge of antenna design and microwave technologies, and Dallan Byrne, an expert in remote sensing – developed the concept for the moisture sensor when investigating improved methods of detecting tumours in the body.
A unique feature of the proprietary sensor and algorithm is that it is capable of detecting water by using its reflective qualities using an electromagnetic pulse. It can distinguish between water contained in foliage and water in the soil and so is able to give a direct measure of soil moisture content regardless of crop cover.
Professor Klemm explains: “Our SoilSense monitor can be mounted on a drone and provides an accurate MoistureMap visualisation of the entire field in minutes. This is a step-change in moisture sensing and offers the potential for smart irrigation controlled by actual water need.”
Typically soil moisture is measured using sensors “planted” at intervals across the field. These are time-consuming to install and only give an accurate measure of a single spot in the field. To cover larger fields one would need tens or hundreds or these sensors installed, which is impractical. An alternative is an aerial sensor but the current technology is passive radiometry, which is sensitive to adverse weather conditions and prone to interference.
Smart water usage is essential for many parts of the world, including the dry east of England, so being able to adjust water usage based on soil moisture content is a major breakthrough.
The company is looking to work with developers of drone and smart irrigation technology as the sensor can add value to other systems or be offered as part of a service.
The GROW agri-tech business plan competition was established by Agri-Tech East to stimulate entrepreneurship in the industry. The 2016/17 competition was supported by Innovate UK.