Planetary Exploration Based Camera Technology for Precision Agriculture Applications
Submitting InstitutionAberystwyth University
Unit of AssessmentComputer Science and Informatics
Summary Impact TypeTechnological
Research Subject Area(s)
Physical Sciences: Atomic, Molecular, Nuclear, Particle and Plasma Physics
Information and Computing Sciences: Artificial Intelligence and Image Processing
Technology: Communications Technologies
Summary of the impact
The Space Robotics unit is heavily involved with the ESA/Roscosmos 2018
ExoMars rover mission, and is responsible for the radiometric and
colourimetric calibration and image processing for two of the
ExoMars science cameras during mission operations. Camera emulators have
been built which has led to novel hyperspectral camera technology being
developed. A terrestrial aerial version of this camera has been deployed
in an unmanned aerial system (UAS) used for advanced remote sensing for
precision agriculture applications. Impact on practitioners in this
application area has emerged together with economic impact via Welsh
Government funding. The ExoMars related research has led to impact in the
area of society, culture and creativity.
The Computer Science Space Robotics unit at Aberystwyth is focused upon
advanced robotics and computer vision for space and planetary exploration.
The group was involved with the Stereo Camera System (SCS) instrument
onboard the ESA 2003 Mars Beagle 2 Lander [3.1], and due to the expertise
gained, now has key roles within the future ESA/Roscosmos 2018 ExoMars
rover mission. The unit has Co-Investigator status for both the
international ExoMars Panoramic Camera (PanCam) [3.2], and CLose UP Imager
(CLUPI) instruments. PanCam incorporates (Visible-VIS and Near
Infrared-NIR) multispectral cameras [3.3], whilst CLUPI is a high
resolution Foveon detector based camera. The group's responsibilities
include the radiometric and colourimetric calibration for both PanCam and
CLUPI, and processing the captured image data during the mission to
generate scientific region of interest data, and natural-colour image
products [3.4]. The instruments require in situ calibration targets on the
rover during the mission, and these are being built by the unit. The
application of advanced computer vision and machine learning based methods
to autonomously identify science targets from the captured image data
[3.5] is an ongoing research area for the unit.
The Beagle 2 lander work involved calibration of the robotic arm and the
development of modelling/visualisation tools that would have provided the
high-level arm motion command data during the surface mission. The SCS was
part of the arm payload, and the Aberystwyth unit were responsible for the
SCS geometric calibration prior to launch in 2003 [3.1]. Whilst the Beagle
2 mission did not realise the results that were hoped for, it did
nevertheless provide the Aberystwyth unit with invaluable robotic and
computer vision expertise that enabled key camera instrument roles to be
won in open international competition for the next ESA (exobiology)
mission to Mars in 2018 called ExoMars.
The Aberystwyth involvement with the ExoMars 2018 PanCam and CLUPI
instruments has led to new on-Mars camera calibration target technology,
and the design, and implementation of the Aberystwyth Radiometric and
Colourimetric Image Processing Pipeline (RCIPP) software [3.4]. This work
has been funded by STFC [3.7], the UK Space Agency [3.8], with additional
contributions from two EU funded FP7 projects: Planetary Robotics Vision
Ground Processing (PRoVisG) [3.9], and Planetary Robotics Vision Scout
To design, develop and test the new Aberystwyth calibration targets and
RCIPP software led to the unit building the Aberystwyth University PanCam
Emulator (AUPE) which functionally mimics the detector, optics and filter
wheel elements of the eventual flight instrument. It was the development
of AUPE that led us to consider how we might design a hyperspectral camera
instrument for future planetary exploration missions. As a consequence,
the Aberystwyth unit developed the idea of a relatively low-cost,
low-mass, robust and reliable hyperspectral camera which exploited the
angle dependence of interference filter transmission bands.
In open competition, an Ocean Optics "BlueOcean" development grant was
awarded to Aberystwyth in 2011 to develop a camera prototype [3.11]. This
was based on a windowing 'push-broom' data collection method, and the unit
developed the camera calibration and image processing algorithms required
to de-convolve the combined spatial/spectral data captured by the camera.
This work led to the realisation that a terrestrial aerial version of the
prototype could be developed given the low-mass, low-power, robustness and
'push-broom' aspects of the camera. Working with Environment Systems Ltd.
and Callen-Lenz Associates Ltd., the Aberystwyth unit has developed a new
multispectral aerial camera system which offers significant performance
improvements over other aerial cameras, and it is this work that has given
rise to a number of impact areas.
The research was carried out by a unit at Aberystwyth, including Prof.
Dave Barnes (PI) (01/03/1999), Dr. Mark Neal (01/09/1997), Dr. Fred
Labrosse (01/09/2000), Dr. Martin Wilding (03/01/2005), Dr. Dave Langstaff
(01/04/1997), Dr. Changjing Shang (01/03/2011), Dr. Laurence Tyler
(01/10/2007), Dr. Stephen Pugh (01/10/2008-20/12/2012), and Aberystwyth
References to the research
[3.1] Barnes, D., Phillips, N., Paar, G., Beagle 2 Simulation and
Calibration for Ground Segment Operations, In 7th International
Symposium on Artificial Intelligence, Robotics and Automation in Space
(i-sairas 2003), Nara, Japan, May19-23, 2003.
[3.2] Griffiths, A., Coates, A., Jaumann, R., Michaelis, H., Paar, G.,
Barnes, D., Josset, J-L., Context for the ESA ExoMars Rover: the Panoramic
Camera (PanCam) Instrument, International Journal of Astrobiology,
Vol. 5, Issue 03, July 2006, pp. 269-275, 2006. DOI:
[3.3] Claire R Cousins, Matthew Gunn, Bryan J Prosser, Dave P Barnes, Ian
A Crawford, Andrew D Griffiths, Lottie E Davis, Andrew J Coates. Selecting
the Geology Filter Wavelengths for the ExoMars Panoramic Camera
Instrument. Journal of Planetary and Space Science, 71(1), 247-253,
2012. DOI: 10.1016/j.pss.2012.07.009. REF2 submitted.
[3.4] D. Barnes, M. Wilding, M. Gunn, S. Pugh, L. Tyler, A. Coates, A.
Griffiths, C. Cousins, N. Schmitz, A. Bauer, and G. Paar. Multi-Spectral
Vision Processing for the ExoMars 2018 Mission. In 11th Symposium on
Advanced Space Technologies in Robotics and Automation (ASTRA 2011),
ESA/ESTEC, Noordwijk, The Netherlands, April 2011.
[3.5] Mark Woods, Andy Shaw, Dave Barnes, Dave Price, Derek Long, Derek
Pullan, Autonomous science for an ExoMars Rover-like mission, Journal
of Field Robotics, Vol. 26 Issue 4, pp 358-390, April 2009. DOI:
10.1002/rob.20289. REF2 submitted.
[3.6] Gunn, M., Barnes, D., Cousins, C., Langstaff,. Tyler, L., Pugh, S.,
Pullan, D., Griffiths, A., A method of extending the capabilities of
multispectral interference-filter cameras for planetary exploration
applications. Proc. 2nd Annual Academic Sponsored Hyperspectral
Imaging (HSI) Conference, Glasgow, 16th-18th May 2011.
Key Research Grants:
[3.7] D. Barnes. Stereo wide-angle cameras for the ExoMars panoramic
camera instrument — Part A, (2008 to 2010), STFC. £130K
[3.8] D. Barnes. Stereo wide-angle cameras for the ExoMars panoramic
camera instrument — Part B, (2010 to 2013), UK Space Agency. £124K
[3.9] D. Barnes. EU FP7 PRoVisG: Planetary Robotics Vision Ground
Processing, (2008 to 2011). Total EU Contribution to Aberystwyth: €259K.
[3.10] D. Barnes. EU FP7 PRoViScout: Planetary Robotics Vision Scout,
(2009 to 2012). Total EU Contribution to Aberystwyth: €237K.
[3.11] M. Gunn, D. Langstaff, D. Barnes. Ocean Optics Inc — Blue Ocean
Competition Award, Phase I, (2011). Total $10K.
Details of the impact
Impacts on practitioners and on the environment: Callen-Lenz
Associates Ltd is a leading aviation consultancy and operations company
with significant experience in the operation of Unmanned Aerial Systems
(UAS) in civilian airspace. Environment Systems Ltd. is a leading
environmental and geographic intelligence consultancy, and is at the
forefront of developments in mapping and modelling of remotely sensed
space and airborne data. These two SMEs jointly developed Project URSULA
(supported by the Welsh Assembly Government) which involved unmanned
aerial systems (UAS). URSULA (UAS Remote Sensing for Use in Land
Applications) was a 2-year research and development programme to explore
the potential for advanced remote sensing in land applications, primarily
in high input arable farming [5.1]. As a result the UAS technology
combined with multi-spectral aerial cameras is being used to drive
improvements in managing agricultural practices such as the use of
fertilisers, pesticides, invasive weed mapping and crop disease and stress
detection. The Aberystwyth developed low-cost, low-mass, robust and
reliable multispectral aerial camera has undergone UAS deployment trials
with Environment Systems Ltd. and Callen-Lenz Associates Ltd., and
returned outstanding results that are a step-change in spatial and
spectral resolution when compared to commercially available camera systems
Economic Impact: There is no UAS deployable multispectral aerial
camera on the market with a performance equivalent to the Aberystwyth
system. So much so that Environment Systems and Callen-Lenz Associates
have worked with the Aberystwyth unit to commercialise and exploit the
Aberystwyth multispectral aerial camera technology. The two companies have
in March 2013 spun out URSULA Agriculture Ltd., a joint venture company,
to take the Project URSULA R&D to market and to commercially exploit
the opportunities presented by UAS and imaging technologies within
precision agriculture both in the UK and overseas export [5.4]. URSULA
Agriculture Ltd. is responsible for marketing the Aberystwyth
multispectral aerial camera [5.4]. Environment Systems, Callen-Lenz
Associates, and URSULA Agriculture Ltd. are well positioned to understand
the potential world-wide UAS multispectral camera market, and recent
activities have led to new investment funding being sought in 2013 from
the agriculture and investment communities, together with further support
from Welsh Government (via a Smart grant). This venture capital and
R&D funding of £1-2m is sought to deliver rapid growth and new
jobs in the UK, and progress towards this goal has been achieved via a
Welsh Government Academic Expertise For Business (A4B) grant being awarded
[5.2], [5.3], [5.4].
Impacts on society, culture and creativity: The developed
Aberystwyth PanCam instrument emulator together with the EADS Astrium Ltd.
ExoMars development rover was selected via competitive proposal submission
to be show-cased at the Royal Society Summer Science Exhibition from
30/06/2008 to 04/07/2008. The stand was entitled "Exploring the Solar
System: mankind or machine?", and over four thousand visitors attended the
exhibition [5.5], [5.6]. The event provided a unique opportunity for
members of the public to interact with Aberystwyth scientists, the Bridget
rover and the Aberystwyth PanCam emulator, and to ask questions about our
work. Our PanCam instrument emulator together with the EADS Astrium
ExoMars development rover was filmed by the BBC undergoing Mars mission
operations trials at Clarach Bay, Wales, UK. The filming was for the BBC
Coast Programme, Series 6, Episode 5 entitled "Wales — Border to Border",
which was first shown on BBC2 on 10/07/2011 with an audience of 2.27
million viewers [5.7]. The program has been repeated a total of six times
on BBC2 including 12/07/2011 with an audience of 2.34 million viewers
[5.7], and on 10/06/2012 with 1.99 million viewers [5.7].
Sources to corroborate the impact
[5.1] Project URSULA Web Page: http://www.projectursula.com/.
Last accessed 04/06/2013.
[5.2] Letter from the Director of Callen-Lenz Associates Ltd.
[5.3] Letter from the Director of Environment Systems Ltd.
[5.4] Letter from the Director of URSULA Agriculture Ltd.
[5.5] Review of the Summer Science Exhibition and Soirées 2008, The Royal
Society of Arts..
[5.6] Royal Society Web Page: http://royalsociety.org/summer-science/2008/.
Last accessed 04/06/2013.
[5.7] Broadcasters' Audience Research Board (BARB) web page: http://www.barb.co.uk/.
Last accessed 04/06/2013.