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Crop Biotech Update

New Aeronautical Technology Aims to Improve Maize Yields

April 10, 2013

A team from the Universitat de Barcelona led by Professor Joseph Lluís Araus has developed a remote-controlled, unmanned plane called 'Skywalker', designed to help select which maize varieties are best adapted to adverse environmental conditions. Spectral reflectance and thermal imagery cameras were fitted into the plane's wings to evaluate crop growth, temperature, and soil water. The plane can fly at over 600 meter with an average speed of 45 kilometers per hour. The take-off and landing times can be automatically programmed and the developers hope that the data gathered by the Skywalker will contribute to a more efficient maize breeding, and speed up the development of drought and low nitrogen maize varieties.

The first prototype of Skywalker was given to the South Africa Office of the International Maize and Wheat Improvement Center (CIMMYT), where researchers coordinated a field test. A second unit is planned to be given to Peru's National Institute for Agronomic Research (INIA). 

More information about the Skywalker is available at