SLANTRANGE makes precision agriculture even more precise

By Patrick C. Miller | May 25, 2016

All it took was a few drone flights over Nebraska cornfields for Mike Ritter, CEO of SLANTRANGE, to show farmers the value of unmanned aircraft systems (UAS) in agriculture using the technology developed by his company.

After 10 years working on sensors and analytics for General Atomics, Ritter and his team decided to apply their knowledge to agriculture. Working from the company’s headquarters in San Diego, they developed specialized sensor systems and analytical tools that create new types of information for growers on a variety of different crops.

On one of SLANTRANGE’s early test flights in Nebraska, they discovered a six-acre bare spot in the middle of a 160-acre field caused by a malfunctioning planter. Without the UAS imagery, the farmer wouldn’t have known about the problem until it was too late.

The Nebraska farmers were so impressed that they decided to fund the company. Now SLANTRANGE has an office in Lincoln, Nebraska. Ritter said some of those most impressed by what UAS equipped with the company’s technology can do are agronomists and crop consultants who’ve spent many years walking fields and developing an eye for spotting problems.

Ritter recalled one of them telling him, “I feel like I’ve been doing math on a notepad for years and you’ve just shown me a calculator.”

SLANTRANGE recently unveiled two new sensors it sells to commercial operators providing UAS precision agriculture services. In addition, it released a new version of SLANTVIEW, the company’s proprietary data analytics software. According to SLANTRANGE, the technology more than doubles the resolution, data collection rate and processing efficiency over the previous generation.

“All that information is geared toward making farmers more efficient in their production process,” Ritter noted. “We specialize in information for different crop types, but it’s all geared toward either improving their yield or reducing their input costs.”

He said SLANTRANGE’s technology is different from what’s currently in use.

“Traditionally, UAS sensors look at how light is reflected off the crops and infer some things going on at the biological level,” Ritter explained. “We’ve developed some more specialized products.”

For example, a drone equipped with a SLANTRANGE sensor can tell a farmer if the prescription for the crop planted is growing as planned. In the past, growers would engage in the labor-intensive, time-consuming process of walking a field.

“We totally automate that process using a combination of spectral imaging and computer vision techniques to detect individual plants within the field, isolating them from weeds and providing the grower with a map that tells the plant density of the field. It’s a real high-value product for corn growers,” Ritter explains.

In addition, the SLANTRANGE system provides the ability to quickly analyze large quantities of data in areas that often don’t have access to high-bandwidth networks.

“Our processing starts onboard because we’re able to put the software inside the sensor,” Ritter said. “When the aircraft lands, the completion of the processing happens on a tablet in about five minutes. It’s going from hours to a matter of minutes to see results in the complete absence of other infrastructure.”

SLANTRANGE cut its teeth on corn and soybeans in Nebraska, but is now expanding to specialty crops such as California citrus, vegetables and nut trees.

“When we put this together, we tried to look at the whole challenge of delivering information,” Ritter said. “We’re not in the business of just selling cameras. We’re not in the business of just selling software. We’re trying to deliver information to people where they need it and when they need it.”


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