Developing thermal infrared imaging systems for monitoring spatial crop temperatures for precision agriculture applications



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Kansas State University


Precise water application conserves resources, reduces costs, and optimizes plant performance and quality. Existing irrigation scheduling utilizes single, localized measurements that do not account for spatial crop water need; but, quick, single-point sensors are impractical for measuring discrete variations across large coverage areas. Thermography is an alternate approach for measuring spatial temperatures to quantify crop health. However, agricultural studies using thermography are limited due to previous camera expense, unfamiliar use and calibration, software for image acquisition and high-throughput processing specifically designed for thermal imagery mapping and monitoring spatial crop water need. Recent advancements in thermal detectors and sensing platforms have allowed uncooled thermal infrared (TIR) cameras to become suited for crop sensing. Therefore, a small, lightweight thermal infrared imaging system (TIRIS) was developed capable of radiometric temperature measurements. One-time (OT) and real-time (RT) radiometric calibrations methods were developed and validated for repeatable, temperature measurements while compensating for strict environmental conditions within a climate chamber. The Tamarisk® 320 and 640 analog output yielded a measurement accuracy of ±0.82°C or 0.62ºC with OT and RT radiometric calibration, respectively. The Tamarisk® 320 digital output yielded a measurement accuracy of ±0.43 or 0.29ºC with OT and RT radiometric calibration, respectively. Similarly, the FLIR® Tau 2 analog output yielded a measurement accuracy of ±0.87 or 0.63ºC with OT and RT radiometric calibration, respectively. A TIRIS was then built for high-throughput image capture, correction, and processing and RT environmental compensation for monitoring crop water stress within a greenhouse and temperature mapping aboard a small unmanned aerial systems (sUAS). The greenhouse TIRIS was evaluated by extracting plant temperatures for monitoring full-season crop water stress index (CWSI) measurements. Canopy temperatures demonstrated that CWSI explained 82% of the soil moisture variation. Similarly, validation aboard a sUAS provided radiometric thermal maps with a ±1.38°C (α=0.05) measurement accuracy. Due to the TIR cameras’ performance aboard sUAS and greenhouse platforms, a TIRIS provides unparalleled spatial coverage and measurement accuracy capable of monitoring subtle crop stress indicators. Further studies need to be conducted to produce spatial crop water stress maps at scales necessary for variable rate irrigation systems.



Thermography, Spatial crop water stress, Remote sensing, Image segmentation, Uncooled thermal camera, Thermal infrared

Graduation Month



Master of Science


Department of Biological & Agricultural Engineering

Major Professor

Ajay Sharda