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Research Project: Sustainable Production and Pest Management Practices for Nursery, Greenhouse, and Protected Culture Crops

Location: Application Technology Research

Title: RFID and drones: the next generation of plant inventory

Author
item QUINO, JANNETTE - Clemson University
item MAJA, JOE MARI - Clemson University
item ROBBINS, JAMES - University Of Arkansas
item FERNANDEZ, R TOM - Michigan State University
item Owen Jr, James - Jim
item CHAPPELL, M - University Of Georgia

Submitted to: AgriEngineering
Publication Type: Peer Reviewed Journal
Publication Acceptance Date: 3/31/2021
Publication Date: 4/6/2021
Citation: Quino, J., Maja, J., Robbins, J., Fernandez, R., Owen Jr, J.S., Chappell, M. 2021. RFID and drones: the next generation of plant inventory. AgriEngineering. 3(2):168-181. https://doi.org/10.3390/agriengineering3020011.
DOI: https://doi.org/10.3390/agriengineering3020011

Interpretive Summary: Collection of plant inventory (i.e., count, grade, plant size, yield) data is time-consuming and labor intensive, remaining inaccurate and costly in many cases. One-third of surveyed nursery crop growers stated they collect inventory data at least twice per year at an estimated cost of 2.8% of gross sales, equating to $31 million annually in labor, and yet current methods still result in sales losses due to poorly timed or inaccurate inventory data. The main objective of this work was to demonstrate merging specific ground and aerial-based technologies (Radio Frequency Identification [RFID], and small Unmanned Aircraft System [sUAS]) into a holistic systems approach to address automating on-demand plant inventory. Fourteen different RFID tags, differing in RFID inlay design, were evaluated with respect to their distance and orientation to the RFID reader attached to a sUAS. RFID tag sensor patterns and inlay designs perform differently ranging from very low to 95% efficient. The distance between the reader and the tags at 1.5 meter and 6.0 m did not significantly affect the scanning efficiency of the RFID system in horizontally fixed in all tags. Tags facing upward or right facing had the highest scan rate with higher potential success rate. Based on results, RFID coupled with sUAS is a very promising technology for use in nursery inventory data acquisition that can quickly help growers realize increase profit.

Technical Abstract: Collection of plant inventory (i.e., count, grade, plant size, yield) data is time-consuming, can be inaccurate, and costly. There has been improvements to the involved processes; however, they still rely heavily on manual labor. In response to increasing labor costs and shortages, there is an increased need for adoption of more automated technologies by the nursery industry. Growers, small and large, are beginning to adopt technologies (e.g., plant spacing robots) that automate or augment certain operations, but greater strides must be taken to integrate next generation technologies into these challenging unstructured agricultural environments. The main objective of this work is to demonstrate merging specific ground and aerial-based technologies (Radio Frequency Identification [RFID], and small Unmanned Aircraft System [sUAS]) into a holistic systems approach to address the specific need of moving toward automated on-demand plant inventory. This preliminary work focuses on evaluating different RFID tags with respect to their distance and orientation to the RFID reader. Fourteen different RFID tags, five distances (1.5 m, 3.0 m, 4.5 m, 6.0 m, and 7.6 m), and four tag orientations [the front of the tag (UP), back of the tag (DN), tag at sideways-left (SL), and tag at sideways-right (SR)] were assessed. Results showed that the tag upward orientation resulted in the highest scanning rate for both the laboratory and field experiments. Two orientations (UP and SR) had significant effect on the scan rate of tags. The distance between the reader and the tags at 1.5 meter and 6.0 m did not significantly affect the scanning efficiency of the RFID system in horizontally fixed (p-value > 0.05) position regardless of tags. Different tag designs also produced different scan rates. Overall, since most of the tags were scanned at least once (except for Tag 6F), it is a very promising technology for using in nursery inventory data acquisition. Although these experiments are focused on inventory in plant nurseries, results for this work has potential for inventory management in other agricultural sectors.