New, build-It-yourself camera track system for plant phenotyping in the field

Bioproducts and Biosystems Engineering News, June 21, 2018

For about the price of a commercial agricultural imaging drone, plant breeders and researchers can now build their own automated field camera track system to help collect data on dynamic plant traits such as crop lodging and movement as they’re happening in the field.

The system—designed to accommodate 360-degree field of view cameras—can be adapted to various field dimensions, crops, and sensor systems to get high throughput phenotypic data. University of Minnesota researchers built the system using a 360FLY 4K hemispherical video camera, industrial curtain track, and a Raspberry Pi computer.

MnDrive faculty Peter Marchetto, an assistant professor in the Department of Bioproducts and Biosystems Engineering, collaborated with Alex Susko, a University of Minnesota doctoral candidate in applied plant sciences, on the project. 

This versatile $5,500 system is one of many new ways for high throughput phenotyping in plants and is built to withstand inclement weather.

“Field camera track systems exist, such as the PhenoSpex FieldScan, but it’s proprietary and primarily designed for container crop phenotyping. Our system is open source, less expensive, and easier to construct,” Susko says. “It’s my hope that a system like this opens the possibility for the discovery of novel plant phenotypes.


Two men installing a pole in a crop field.
Alex Susko gets help building the camera track system in an experimental field on the University of Minnesota St. Paul campus.