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Institute of Bio- and Geosciences

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Field investigations from the air with unmanned aerial vehicles (UAV's)

There are several multirotor platforms (Fieldcopter), a rigid wing (Fieldglider) and a Zeppelin (Fieldship) available, which can be equipped with different sensors.

The Fieldcopter is a multi-rotor platform, based on the Falcon-8 produced by AscTec. 8 propellers drive the Copter which is thanks to precise sensors capable of accurate maintaining of position and attitude. Thus the Fieldcopter is the perfect platform for the positioning of imaging sensors over agricultural experimental fields. In other words, the Fieldcopter is a flying tripod that places thermal- or RGB cameras over the field. By the vertical angle of view large experimental fields can be analyzed by a single image. The Fieldcopter can be equipped, dependent on the scientific task, with a RGB or Thermal camera. Additional a specially designed spectrometer can be carried into the air.

The Fieldglider is an autonomous flying, unmanned motor glider with a wingspan of 4 meters and a flight duration of 40 minutes. It is therefore well suited for mapping larger agricultural areas. The Fieldglider was built in 2016 and has since been used operationally to record bill data. Currently, the Fieldglider is equipped with an RGB camera, a multispectral camera and a thermal camera that can be flown simultaneously, providing synchronized and registered field and test site images. The fieldglider is controlled by a professional pilot, who can realize versatile flight patterns and observation protocols.

The 10 m sized “Fieldship” is a blimp, which acts as a carrier platform for various scientific devices. 24m³ of helium keep the airship floating and lead to a maximum payload of 5 kg. Huge batteries power two 1 kW brushless engines and deliver an endurance of more than 60 minutes. The airship was acquired in 2013 and since then had several test flights and is continuously improved including an autopilot to enable semi-autonomous operations.
With the Fieldship sensors can be flown over agricultural areas for long periods of time. The high payload, the smooth flight and low vibrations make the airship a great platform for scientific tools, complementing other small UAV platforms.


Wilke, N., Siegmann, B., Klingbeil, L., Burkart, A., Kraska, T., Muller, O., van Doorn, A., Heinemann, S. & Rascher, U. (2019) Quantifying Lodging Percentage and Lodging Severity Using a UAV-Based Canopy Height Model Combined with an Objective Threshold Approach. Remote Sensing, 11, 515.

von Bueren S.K., Burkart A., Hueni A., Rascher U., Tuohy M.P. & Yule I.J. (2015) Deploying four optical UAV-based sensors over grassland: challenges and limitations. Biogeosciences, 12, 163-175.

Burkart A., Aasen H., Alonso L., Menz G., Bareth G. & Rascher U. (2015) Angular dependency of hyperspectral measurements over wheat characterized by a novel UAV based goniometer. Remote Sensing, 7, 725-746.

Burkart A., Schickling A.; Pilar Cendrero Mateo M., Wrobel T.; Rossini M., Cogliati S., Julitta T. & Rascher, U. (2015) A method for uncertainty assessment of passive sun-induced chlorophyll fluorescence retrieval by using an infrared reference light. IEEE Sensors, doi 10.1109/JSEN.2015.2422894.