Summer Roberts is working to improve UAV-based remote sensing technology for farmers


Tell us about yourself and your background

I grew up in a small town called Claremont in the outskirts of Los Angeles, California. Having been lucky enough to live at the base of the San Antonio mountains and the Pacific Ocean, my family always encouraged me to be outside and live everyday as if it were my last. My passion has led me on many adventures and self growth. I enjoy backpacking, rock climbing and crushing those miles on hikes. My love for the outdoors followed me into my education. I am a Geography Student at Cal Poly Pomona with an emphasis in GIS (Geographic Information Systems) and set to graduate with my bachelors in May 2019! I hope to pursue my current research on UAVs with crop monorting on a larger level in the near future.  

How did you get started in the drone industry?

I was introduced to the use of drone as a tool and how it can make lives easier as well as help obtain information in a safe way through Rio Hondo College, although I do not attend the school, I was inspired by their presentation at the Los Angeles County GIS day in downtown LA. From that day forward I tried to find ways in supporting my research through the use of drones. I then found the Cal Poly Pomona Aerospace Engineering Department and they offered to support my research and the Learning Through Discovery department on campus offered to fund my research.

Tell us about your organization and your role there.

The overall goal of the project is to develop Unmanned aerial vehicles (UAV) for remote sensing along with machine learning in crop monitoring to advance the field of precision agriculture. The main advantage of UAV-based remote sensing is the reduced cost and immediate availability of high resolution data. This helps detect crop stresses throughout the crop season. Conventional methods of remote sensing use satellites and manned aircraft. However, the images have low resolutions, and have large revisit periods. Also, these methods cost $8,000 to $10,000 per data capture for high resolution data of a 200 hectare farm, which is cost prohibitive for most farmers. For remote sensing to play an important role for precision agriculture, the associated cost must be reduced. However, though UAV-based remote sensing technology has made significant progress in recent years, much less has been done on validating the accuracy of the data. To be useful for real-world applications, the accuracy of remote sensing data must be validated using proven ground-based methods. This project combines the development of UAVs for crop monitoring with the ground-truthing validation techniques required to established the reliability of the data collected from those UAVs. This is done by correlating UAV-based data with ground-based data collected via a handheld spectroradiometer, chlorophyll content meter, and water potential meter. My role in this project, along with my partner Sean Martinez, is collecting the Image with the UAVs, processing the data through ArcGIS/Pix4D/ Drone2Map and presenting it in a way that can be visually appealing and observable for further analysis.

Industry Experience:

What do you like most about being in the UAV industry?

I love how endless the possibilities are with the UAV industry and how important the collected information could be.

What’s your favorite type of project and why?

Unmanned aerial vehicles (UAV) for remote sensing along with machine learning in crop monitoring to advance the field of precision agriculture.

Do you have a success story you would like to share?

I would say its a success story in the making. I recently changed my gaze toward the drone industry having been working in the Geography/ GIS field for over 7 years. I hope to use this newfound skill of drone use in my projects in order to obtain essential and groundbreaking data for precision agriculture.


What excites you most about the potential for women in the industry?

From what I’ve seen in the GIS and in the drone industry, women are not that prominent. It excites me that there are powerful women out there making themselves heard in this new and upcoming community.

What’s your current favorite drone to fly?

Mavic Pro / Inspire

What You’ve Learned:

What has been your most significant “lightbulb” moment since you entered the industry?

When I heard Alicia Amerson speak at the Palomar 2018 National Drone Conference. Her story of going toward what she’s passionate about in wildlife conservation with this new tool made me look at the use of drones in a whole other light. We have a duty to use drones for the positive, and I know this is achievable with my research.

What have you learned you wish you had known when you got started?

That it will be hard and expensive to obtain funding and access to drones. As a student I wish I had reached out to my university earlier in order to ask for help with funding. I would have gotten the ball rolling faster with my research. I’ve had to move location because the crop had already grown past the ‘start point’ before I received access to a drone.

Is there a tip you learned you would like to share with other women in the industry?

Get your FAA 107 Certificate. Log all information and processes you do in the field. Buy the insurance for the drone. Call into the local airport to document where you will be flying. Know what you are flying and know the regulations, you will be able to fly with confidence and comfort.

The Final Word:

Is there anything else you would like to share with the Women and Drones Community?

Nothing but that I am honored to have found this community and I look forward to seeing how women strengthen the Drone industry.

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