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Biological Systems Engineering Agricultural Automation Engineering

WSU Faculty, Dr. Lav Khot, Presents at 2017 APS Annual Meeting in San Antonio

Dr. Lav R. Khot
State-of-the-art on Sensing Technologies for Plant Disease Detection

Lav Khot, Assistant Professor,
Department of Biological Systems Engineering
IAREC, Washington State University

APS Annual Meeting 2017 website headerBrief description: Site-specific disease detection is one of the key aspects of effective crop (loss) management. Recent advances in detectors (optical, chemical) have improved feasibility of development and use of rapid non-contact/nondestructive sensing techniques in plant diseases detection. Advances in versatile ground-, aerial-platforms, and internet of things (IOT)-enabled data acquisition, in-field onboard processing, and near-real-time delivery techniques have also helped in easing logical concerns, about time and labor, of field level crop scouting. This talk will thus focus on state-of-the art in the field of chemical and optical sensors, platforms (e.g. small and mid-sized unmanned aerial systems), and IOT based technologies that could be an aid in rapid disease detection. Through case studies in specialty crops, the talk will discuss the feasibility of the technology in field level disease detection as well as challenges that need further research before its commercial use.

[ more information about the Annual Meeting ]


Washington State Professor Finds Sky-high Opportunities for Drones in Agriculture

February 27, 2017  |  Washington Farm Bureau

Many farmers and ranchers are already benefitting from drone technology, but the work of researchers like Dr. Lav Khot is showing that we’ve only scratched the surface of what this relatively new technology can do for agriculture. Khot works for Washington State University’s Center for Precision and Automated Agricultural Systems and in the agricultural automation engineering research emphasis area of the Department of Biological Systems Engineering. [ full article on Farm Bureau site ]

Plant biologists welcome their robot overlords

Old-school areas of plant biology are getting tech upgrades that herald more detailed, faster data collection.

January 25, 2017 |by Heidi Ledford, Nature – International Weekly Journal of Science

drone flying over cropAt Washington State University in Pullman, biological engineer Sindhuja Sankaran’s lab is preparing to deploy drones carrying lidar, the laser equivalent of radar. The system will scan agricultural fields to gather data on plant height and the density of leaves and branches. Sankaran also uses sensors to measure the volatile chemicals that plants give off, particularly when they are under attack from insects or disease. She hopes eventually to mount the sensors on robots.

[ full article at ]

Agtech: Higher yields, lower costs, better environmental protection

Dr. Lav Khot operating a drone in flight

Fall 2016 | Washington Business Magazine, by Richard S. Davis

Advanced technology has contributed to tremendous growth in production since the middle of the 20th century, while farmers have been able to reduce inputs, including labor, chemicals, and energy.  The agricultural and food industry accounts for 13 percent of Washington State’s economy. Biotech, “flying tractors”, designer orchards, and robots have changed everything on the farm, from planting to harvest to packing house.

At left, Washington State University professor Dr. Lav Khot flies and eight-bladed octo-copter unmanned aerial vehicle or drone.

[ full article in Washington Business digital magazine (requires Flash) – page 30 ]


Dr. Sankaran Presents at Inaugural Event

Dr. Sankaran presenting at SciTech NorthwestWednesday, November 9th, the inaugural SciTech Northwest event was held in Seattle. This was the region’s first science and technology expo highlighting the latest innovations and collaborations in cyber/data analytics, clean energy, and biotechnology from three premier Washington research institutions. Twenty one groups and five speakers from Pacific Northwest National Laboratory, University of Washington, and Washington State University showcased their cutting-edge technologies. The featured speaker was Matt McIlwain, Managing Director, Madrona Venture Group.

More at:

Xconomy –  Washington Scientists Forge Ahead Amid Uncertainty

GeekWire – Tech investor Matt McIlwain: Seattle with shape the future with a ‘three-layer cake’ of innovation

Drone captures vineyard irrigation data

NBC Right Now logo Growing wine grapes with less water: The study Khot is involved in is an effort to reduce the amount of irrigation water used to grow wine grapes by applying water directly to the roots of a vine in the ground, instead of dripping water on the ground near the trunk. The project is led by WSU professors Pete Jacoby and Sindhuja Sankaran, both affiliate faculty members of CPAAS. » More ...

DJI, WSU to partner on ag drone research, education

DJI, the world’s leading commercial drone manufacturer, and Washington State University Tuesday announced their intention to partner on research and use of unmanned aerial systems in precision agriculture. WSU’s Center for Precision & Automated Agricultural Systems (CPAAS), based in Prosser, Wash., will lead the effort. CPAAS provides the vast agricultural community in the Pacific Northwest with the latest technology for increased farming efficiency and environmentally friendly production. » More ...

Phenotyping in the field goes high-tech

Good Fruit Grower | Nov 25, 2015

WSU researcher is using thermal infrared cameras and other sensor technologies to study fruit traits.

Researchers have made strides in the study of fruit genomics in recent years, but less ground has been gained in the field of phenomics, the measurement of plant and fruit traits.

Genotyping and phenotyping go hand in hand; one must know if a specific fruit trait is present, and in what form, in order to tie the trait to a specific gene.


WSU researchers aim to make farming more efficient

PULLMAN, Wash. — Washington State University researchers are seeking new ways to increase efficiency of water use in agriculture.

Associate Professor Sindhuja Sankaran is working on using specialized sensors to measure heat stress in grape vines as a way to test the effectiveness of sub-surface irrigation. “It can see things beyond what we can see,” she said.

The sensors use infrared technology to determine if plants are receiving enough water, or if they are under too much heat stress. The first round of trials took place last year near Benton City, Wash. and around Prosser, Wash.

Sankaran said results indicate that using sub-surface irrigation, growers can use only 60 percent of the amount of water typically used, without over stressing the grapes, affecting quality or decreasing yield.

“If in the second season we see the same thing, that means you can save 40 percent water,” said Sankaran.

Sankaran is working with WSU Professor Pete Jacoby to determine the effectiveness of Jacoby’s technique for sub-surface irrigation. The system is set up with plastic tubes going into the ground, near the roots, at depths varying from 30 cm to 120 cm.

Jacoby said having the water come from deeper in the soil forces the roots to go deeper, making the plants more drought resistant.

This method differs from other methods in which irrigation systems are buried because the water is distributed lower and the water emitter is located above the ground. Jacoby said buried drip irrigation tends to clog because of the direct contact with the soil. He also said animals such as gophers have a tendency to chew on underground emitters.

Keeping the water lower in the ground prevents weed growth and limits evaporation, all of which lead to greater efficiency of water use, Jacoby said.

“We think that we can increase water use efficiency by at least 50 percent of what it currently is, by putting the water below the surface.” he said.

Jacoby said that by only using 15 percent of the water normally used in vineyards, the vines still produced 70 percent of the amount of grapes typically produced.

Sankaran said in the coming season her and the other researchers will focus on yield and quality. Trials will begin again this year when the season starts; sometime around the end of May or early June, she said.

In addition to saving water, Sankaran said the sensors can save growers time. Instead of walking through acres of crops and taking notes, a drone with the sensors can just be flown over the land.

Jacoby and his research team compared results of their method of measuring plant’s stress, which is relatively time intensive, to using the cameras. He said the results indicated the sensors provided the same information in less time and allowed researchers to measure the whole vineyard, instead of isolated plants.

Jacoby said the focus on saving water increased after the drought in California in 2015. That year was also the hottest and driest year on record in the state, which heavily impacted agriculture, he said.

Jacoby said he plans to eventually test his irrigation method on hops and some tree fruits in the state.

“We think that this does hold promise,” he said.