Remote Control Research

MU weed scientist uses latest video and cell phone technology to monitor research plots.

Reid Smeda watches weeds grow as part of his research. Now, thanks to a remote camera, the agronomist can sit in his air-conditioned office in Waters Hall at the University of Missouri and check his plots 10 miles away at an Agricultural Experiment Station. In the future, he may monitor several farms at once.

"I could monitor my plots 24/7 from my computer or from a cell phone with Web access from anywhere in the world," Smeda says.

Smeda mounted a weatherproof digital camera on a pole overlooking his plots at the MU farm. The camera clicks a photograph as frequently as once every 30 seconds to transmit by cell phone to a Web-based computer server. From his desktop, Smeda can download pictures at any time. Informally, it is a Weed.Cam, but officially, it is an SCIRC (Self-Contained Internet Remote Camera). This is a commercially available tracking system.

For now, Smeda is brainstorming possible research uses for the close observation of his weed-control plots. He already plans to use the photos for his classroom teaching. A sequence of time-lapse pictures can show results of spraying herbicides on weeds. He can replay the compressed videos in his MU classes next winter.

Smeda thinks that farmers will discover other uses for remote scouting of their fields. "If a farmer has cornfields over a two-county area up to 40 miles away, a camera might show what is happening that morning without driving to the field."

Everyone is familiar with cell phones with built-in cameras. Smeda, however, considers this a digital camera with a built-in cell phone. A small solar panel attached to the support pole feeds power to the Weed.Cam. Rechargeable batteries sustain operations up to five days.

Like all new technology, this set-up is not cheap. The camera costs $450 and the solar panel at least $150.

- By Duane Dailey

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