For thousands of years farming has mainly included human effort. From sowing and adding fertilizers to irrigation and harvesting, every single task has always been done manually. With the help of technology that trend is now starting to change. There exist smart vehicles, which are a modification to the traditional tractors, which can plough the fields, water and harvest the crops on their own. Technology is helping farmers around the world to catch up with the increasing demand and provide with drastically more yield.

A London-based agtech startup has further improved farming by introducing the role of drones. They spent the two years building a software that can scan a field and build a map for tractors and other farm machinery to follow. This can help bring farming costs down significantly.

Hummingbird Technologies is the company, which is all set to book a revenue of $1.5 million for the year 2018, that hires drone pilots to make detailed aerial photos of fields. The company comprises of a staff of 40 members.

The photos created by their drones are of a very high resolution and can show detail down to a single blade of grass. The images are analyzed by Hummingbird’s software, which counts the plants in a field, measures each one’s height, “canopy” coverage and leaf area, or scans the plants for early signs of disease. Its software uses computer vision, a form of machine learning, to identify acres of weeds or chlorophyll concentrations which would otherwise be a time consuming and tedious task for manual labourers.

“We’re picking up readings that tell us about biomass, color, canopy vigor, chlorophyll, to infer how healthy the plant is … in the same way a doctor would monitor the human body,” said Hummingbird’s founder, Will Wells. He also says that it is not possible to obtain such detailed information from satellites.

Founder of Hummingbird Technologies, Will Wells.

Hummingbird Technologies provide their services in United Kingdom, Australia, Ukraine, Russia and Brazil. They charge their customer roughly £5-20 per hectare per a year, depending on the data they want to collect and utilize. The company claims that they can get the costs down once farmers begin using their own drones which can fly autonomously for an hour and scan approximately 500 hectares of field in one go. The investment in a drone may cost a farmer $20,000 says Ed Plowman, chief scientific officer of Hummingbird but it will be worth it as the data output will greatly affect their fields and their yields.

The 100 megapixel camera of the Hummingbird drones can photograph a field to half a centimeter per pixel. Hummingbird’s detection system needs drones to fly out every two weeks on average, but some crops, like potatoes, need more regular flying—every three days or so.  “Our secret sauce is in the imagery,” says Wells.

An example of a shapefile image produced by Hummingbird, showing a grid of 10-by-10 meter squares of nitrogen concentration on crops

A crucial feature of their technology doesn’t just involve collecting a database of numbers but also translates them into decisions about how to irrigate or spray chemicals on a field of corn, potatoes or rapeseed. This technology builds the profile of a field, taking into account variables like weather, soil and date, and creating a personalized instruction set. For instance, adjusting the amount of water to be sprayed on the crops based on the drone’s output data, the farmers can cut down more than 10% of their costs.

With rising population and a higher demand for food, farmers require smart and technologically advanced methods to meet the market requirements. Hummingbird’s drone and software solution may just be able to do that.