In a world with a rapidly rising population, ongoing climate change, and diminishing agricultural resources, Allied Vision is helping LemnaTec GmbH build innovative laboratory automation systems that guide researchers on how to optimize crop yields.
Much of that crop research focuses on grains, the world’s primary source of nutrients. Different types of grains are being hybridized and cultivated to achieve optimal yields with a minimum use of resources. In the process the plants are examined with sophisticated laboratory technology from companies such as LemnaTec GmbH in Aachen. The LemnaTec system, called Scanalyzer3D, utilizes advanced cameras from Allied Vision to provide researchers with previously unavailable data on plant growth, root development, water absorption and drying, and photosynthesis. This breakthrough results from how the cameras employ infrared light to obtain finely detailed images of how plants use water.
Industrial automation and imaging
Scanalyzer3D is a highly automated testing system with which quantitative, nondestructive measurements can be performed on cultivated crops in greenhouses. Plants pass through a series of optical measuring spaces in which they are imaged using various wavelengths. This allows the system to recognize much more detail than the human eye can see—and in more detail than was possible with other methods. Each plant passes through a series of measurement stations and the series is repeated at various stages of the plant’s growth cycle, so researchers can collect statistically relevant, comparable data over time.
The Scanalyzer3D functions as follows:
- At the first measurement station, temperature differences among individual plants or within a single plant (e.g., from one leaf to another) are measured with the aid of thermal-imaging cameras.
- At the second measurement station, the plant is photographed under ordinary light from different angles with high-resolution color cameras, documenting their size, growth, and development over time.
- At the third station, roots are imaged with the aid of infrared cameras operating in the shortwave, near-infrared range, documenting moisture absorption and with it the root system’s efficiency.
- At the fourth station, the section of the plant above the soil is analyzed in the same manner. The images provide information on the water content of the stem and leaves, and, by extension, on the drying process as well as the plants’ recovery following drought.
- The final station relies on fluorescence to highlight particular substances, such as chlorophyll, in the imaging of the plants. To this end, the plant’s pigments are stimulated using blue light with a wavelength below 500 nm. Measurement takes place above this wavelength.
The entire process takes place automatically. Plant pots travel via conveyor belts from one station to the next where they are imaged from different angles and from above so that they are imaged in all dimensions.
SWIR camera highlights water content
LemnaTec has been collaborating with Allied Vision on LemnaTec’s imaging systems for many years. The LemnaTec Scanalyzer3D relies on the Pearleye P-030 LWIR thermal-imaging camera for three dimensional temperature measurement. LemnaTec selected Allied Vision’s Prosilica GT6600, the highest-resolution model of the line, with 29 megapixels and a high-resolution CCD sensor, as the high-resolution color camera for Test Station 2. LemnaTec is also installing other Manta and Prosilica GT series cameras in other testing facilities.
Of particular interest for bio scientists is the use of infrared cameras in the lowinfrared range (900-1,700 nm), also known as SWIR (Shortwave Infrared). With this technology, a plant’s moisture content, or the water distribution within the plant, can be highlighted. Because water strongly absorbs infrared light in a wavelength range from 1,450 to 1,500 nm, it appears black and opaque in an infrared image, so that aqueous areas within a plant appear correspondingly darker. Thanks to this property, scientists can precisely follow water absorption from the roots into the leaves. Conversely, evaporation and desiccation can also be visualized.
For these measurements (in Stations 3 and 4 of the Scanalyzer3D), LemnaTec also relies on infrared cameras from Allied Vision — in this case, cameras in the Goldeye series. With its InGaAs (indium gallium-arsenide) sensor technology, the Goldeye is sensitive in the SWIR range, thus precisely capturing the spectral range in which water absorbs infrared light most strongly. The Goldeye distinguishes itself with its outstanding image quality that allows for especially precise measurements, provided by active sensor cooling using a thermoelectric module (TEC) and innovative image correction algorithms that optimize images within the camera.
Previously, LemnaTec relied on the Goldeye model P-032 SWIR with VGA resolution in the Scanalyzer3D. Since then, Allied Vision has introduced a more compact and robust, higher performing infrared camera in the succeeding Goldeye model G-032 SWIR. “We’re currently testing the integration of the new Goldeye in the Scanalyzer3D,” said Dirk Vandenhirtz, Managing Director of LemnaTec. “Allied Vision made sample cameras available to us for this purpose.” LemnaTec and Allied Vision showed a demonstration installation of this system with the new Goldeye at the VISION 2014 tradeshow.
Innovative imaging and system control
The data captured by the cameras is analyzed and processed by LemnaTec’s software, LemnaGrid. Thanks to its graphical user interface, LemnaGrid is extremely intuitive to operate. Users can design their imaging processes even if they have no programming skills. False color renderings help illustrate the results in the captured images. Additional tools such as LemnaMiner and LemnaShare ease data export and exchange for further processing by a research team.
Accumulated expertise: LemnaTec and Allied Vision
With Scanalyzer3D, LemnaTec helps scientists at the most renowned public and private research institutions develop the next innovations in agriculture and agronomy. Among their clients are BASF, Bayer Crop Science, DuPont, and international research institutions such as ACPFG (Australia), ICAR (India), and the French national agricultural research institute, INRA. “We’re especially proud of our collaboration with LemnaTec,” said Roland Sommer, Allied Vision Sales Manager servicing LemnaTec. “With LemnaTec, we can apply the entire bandwidth of our imaging expertise and add a small contribution to a large goal: environmentally friendly agriculture that can feed everyone.” “Allied Vision is the sole camera manufacturer that not only has technologies and expertise in the visible spectrum, but also in the infrared and thermal ranges. They are the ideal partner for LemnaTec,” Dirk Vandenhirtz said.