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A revolutionary new camera that will detect crop disease quickly, efficiently and at a lower cost has been developed by University of the West of Scotland (UWS) academics.

The technological breakthrough, led by researchers in UWS’s Institute of Thin Films, Sensors and Imaging (ITFSI), could potentially save farmers worldwide thousands of pounds in lost produce, while increasing crop yields.

Traditional hyperspectral cameras, which can be used in agricultural management to scan crops to monitor their health, are expensive and bulky due to the nature of complex optics and electronics within the devices.

Funded by InnovateUK and the Biotechnology and Biological Sciences Research Council (BBSRC), the new camera contains a linear variable filter (LVF) developed by UWS academics Dr Shigeng Song, Dr David Hutson and Professor Des Gibson, of the University’s Institute of Thin Films, Sensors and Imaging.

The filter captures images in real time across the full visible spectrum of light, one wavelength at a time. With crops, it can highlight signs of drought stress or disease, which are difficult to detect by eye.

Dr Song, principal investigator of the InnovateUK and BBSRC-funded project, said: “Cameras like this are useful in farming and agriculture as it makes disease detection far quicker. It takes years of training, experience and time to inspect crops manually, so devices like this speed up the process.

“The use of the linear variable filter means that we can now produce a small, handheld camera which can quickly and effectively monitor crops, and could also be attached to a drone to survey large areas.”
Dr Shigeng Song, UWS academic

Developed as part of a project between academics at UWS and the University of Strathclyde and industry partners Wideblue Ltd, the Hutton Institute in Dundee and Aberdeen and Galloway and Macleod Ltd, the camera will cost less than £1,000 – about a tenth of the cost of the crop cameras currently on the market.

The filter is patented by UWS, and will be commercialised via the UWS spinout Albasense Ltd, the second company spinout from the Institute, the first being Novosound Ltd.

Professor Gibson, Director of the  ITFSI, added: “Our industry-grade facilities enable us to undertake ground-breaking research, like the linear variable filter, while collaborating with industry to create solutions to real-world problems.

“The application of the patented linear variable filter in the crop camera is a fantastic example of the world-class research, development and commercialisation that’s taking place in the Institute of Thin Films, Sensors and Imaging. This technology has real potential to make a difference to thousands of businesses, large and small, across the globe.”
Professor Des Gibson, Director of the ITFSI

Earlier this year, UWS opened its new state-of-the-art thin films laboratory at its Paisley campus.

The £12million laboratory was officially launched by Scotland’s Chief Scientific Adviser, Professor Sheila Rowan.

The extensive upgrade and refurbishment of the University facilities has enabled the Institute to streamline and combine its research, development and commercialisation laboratories into one large, high-tech offering, which also includes the installation of novel, UWS-patented thin film deposition technology.

The investment into the new facilities will help the Institute continue to build on its successes, which, over the past five years, has won £7 million worth of external research and enterprise grants, as well as securing five patents and creating a new masters programme in advanced thin films technology.

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