TRBC is Developing Grass Technology with Drone Technology

Sod Solutions, Oklahoma State, and AG Sod Farms are using drone technology combined with visual observation to bring the next generation of improved turf grasses to the industry. The target of Turf Research Bermuda California (TRBC) is to develop extreme drought tolerant bermuda grasses that exhibit improved winter color. The drone flies an autonomous pattern over the plots that is the same on every flight, collecting 100 photographs at set locations and altitude along its flight path. These images are then stitched together into an ultra high resolution image that can be used for evaluation of the grasses.

The challenge with this project was the location in Southern California which is more than 1400 miles from Oklahoma State University’s lead researcher, Dr. Yanqi Wu, and 1500 miles from Sod Solutions’ Director of Research, Roberto Gurgel. The ability and budget to physically evaluate the plots in a timely manner would be limited without the use of the aerial drone photography. The solution was to train the local farm manager, Larry Lemay, to deploy the drone at set intervals to create the images for comparison. This information com­bined with scheduled physical visits continues to provide significant data for objective evaluation of the grasses.

This new perspective and technique of comparing the test plots proved to be immediately helpful, as an uneven watering pattern that could have skewed results was identified and fixed early in the process. Drone technology can never fully replace site visits and the human factor of evaluation and observa­tion, but this project is proving that it can be a helpful and economical tool.

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