Hot Robotics to support agriculture

Proving the feasibility for using radiation mapping Aerial Vehicles to determine soil water content on fields and pastures


Gamma radiation mapping involves measuring the natural radiation emitted from the ground. Applied to farming, this radiation is affected by the type of soil, the presence of minerals, and the amount of water in the soil. In general, wet soil will absorb more radiation than dry soil, so by measuring the radiation levels, we can estimate the moisture content of the soil. Work at the University of Bristol Hot Robotics facility has been translating its radiation mapping Aerial Vehicles technology to this new and potentially very valuable application.

Project details

Work led by Professor Tom Scott, with NNL funded PhD student Ewan Woodbridge and Research Fellow Dr David Megson-Smith, have been developing a radiation mapping prototype for Aerial Vehicle deployment to quickly and efficiently map ground water concentrations over large agricultural areas.

Professor Scott explains “When fully developed, the Aerial Vehicles will be able to autonomously fly over fields, collecting data as it goes, and then the data will be rapidly processed using specialized software to create a map of the moisture content of the soil.”

This information can be incredibly valuable for farmers, as it can help them make more informed decisions about when to plant, irrigate, and harvest their crops. For example, if a farmer knows that certain areas of their field have higher moisture content, they may choose to plant crops that require more water in those areas, while planting more drought-resistant crops in drier areas. Additionally, the information can help farmers to optimize irrigation and drainage potentially reducing water usage and increasing crop yields.

Looking ahead

Having provided proof of principle for the technology the team are now applying for IUK funding in partnership with several farms in North Somerset and Sussex, with the concept of using the University’s 245 acre Fenswood Farm site for continued development, deployment and validation of the technology.

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