Drones are everywhere. You just have to look at a real-estate posting, watch a film or scroll on social media to see the stunning imagery generated by unidentified flying objects.
But they can do more than capture a pretty picture. At Terramera, our team of engineers, roboticists and now drone pilots, attach high-tech sensing equipment to specialized drones to image farms in innovative ways that allow us to ‘see’ what humans cannot.
While the aerial industry is typically dominated by men—with women making up just 6.7% of registered remote pilots in the US—many women are breaking through the metaphorical glass ceiling and reaching for the sky when it comes to forging a successful career as a drone pilot.
To celebrate International Day of Women and Girls in Science, our drone pilot and machine learning engineer, Maryam Rasoulidanesh, shares what it’s like to take drones to new heights in agriculture.
Drones are the perfect reflection of human imagination and achievement. I’ve always wanted to work with drones and even bought a toy drone to fly it for fun. So, when the opportunity arose to take part in the drone pilot program at Terramera—I was all in.
After months of theoretical training, lessons on sophisticated software that generates insightful data, test flights and even assembling drones from scratch, it was time to put my ‘captain’s hat’ on and fly in the field.
The first mission was one of my biggest highlights. With the sky filled with smoke from BC’s wildfires and the sun, a blurry, orange ball in the sky,
I realized how challenging data collection can be. Still, our incredible team came up with many creative solutions for the challenges that surrounded us.
Farmland is vast. According to machine learning algorithms on the Google Earth Engine, it covers 4.62 billion acres of the earth’s surface. Distance alone makes agricultural tasks challenging for farmers.
Enter a new era of farming with drones: drones help farmers cover hectares of land by spraying, monitoring and optimizing crop yield and growth in a short amount of time. Most drones in agriculture are focused on the vegetation in the field. At Terramera, we are also looking at the foundation of the farm that influences everything from plant health to human health to climate change—we’re digging into the soil from the sky.
Healthy soil is the foundation of every farm. It has a remarkable capacity to pull earth-warming carbon out of the atmosphere and store it in the soil where it fosters healthier and more productive plants while mitigating the effects of climate change. The superior structure of healthy soil stores moisture in a way that prevents flooding and minimizes the devasting effects of drought.
Healthy soil offers a form of resilience to natural disasters that most of us know little about.
Traditionally, measuring soil health is difficult, time-consuming, labour-intensive and inaccurate. We’ve overcome this by combining a fleet of drones, novel sensor and imaging technologies, AI tools and word-class expertise to quickly and efficiently collect highly accurate data that measure soil health properties. In turn, this equips farmers with powerful insights to make data-driven decisions that can better yields, increase crop quality and improve the overall health of their land.
Look at the soil and what do you see: Healthy, dark soil? Impacted, cricket pitch-like clay soil? Maybe a few earthworms if you’re lucky? Human eyes are wondrous things, but they have fundamental limits. While we can sense electromagnetic ranges that are in the range of visible light, imaging systems such as hyperspectral, multispectral, thermal, lidar and high resolutions RGB, help us see the full picture when it comes to soil health.
For example, hyperspectral imaging sees in wavelengths that allow us to accurately measure soil carbon content—and drones—well, they enable us to measure soil health at an agricultural scale.
I am lucky that I have a great team who make me feel comfortable. Like any other male-dominated field, you might feel lonely, and you might need to talk more confidently to be heard. Be confident that you are on the right track, back yourself and embrace the growing number of resources for supporting and empowering women:
Above all, we need to support women in STEM who are breaking barriers and encourage the next generation to take on a rewarding career in solving some of the world’s biggest challenges.
Join the conversation with #WomenInScience