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Droning on about maths

A spatial map which shows a farmer the surface water flow order in a winter grazing area. Original image: Land IQ Insights
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Do the children in your life complain that they won’t use maths when they’re adults?

If so, a Dunedin spatial information scientist has news for them.

Neill Glover, of Land IQ Insights, uses drones with special cameras together with computer software to create spatial maps of farms and quarries, providing valuable information about the most effective land use.

His work has led to him speaking at intermediate and secondary schools about why maths is useful.

“It’s no big deal, it’s just a fun thing to do,” the modest entrepreneur says.

When Neill visits a school, he talks with students about his job and the drone. They tackle a related maths challenge and then go outside to fly the drone and take photographs.

One West Coast schoolboy has retained an interest. After attending a training course about a new Geographical Information Systems (GIS) programme, he’d like to work on the engineering aspect of drones in future.

From mountain bike to drone

Previously, Neill spatially-mapped land using a mountain bike and GPS to collect information, however about six years ago, he began flying a drone.

Neill Glover, of Land IQ Insights (left), and the president of Otago Field Days, Paul Mutch,
at the Palmerston A&P Showgrounds. This photo was taken with the drone they are flying.

He’ll visit a farm or quarry and fly the drone about 122 m above the ground, zigzagging it back and forward, with an overlap, across a set area. In good conditions, one battery powers the drone to cover about 50 ha in 25 minutes.

Using the photos collected, Neill makes 3-D computer models. One thousand photos might go into a resulting image that could easily fit a roadside billboard, with each pixel representing a ground area as small as 2.5cm.

The drone’s cameras have filters which capture specific bands of light such as near-infrared, blue and green. Computer algorithms are applied to combine these bands and supply information about, for example, plant health.

Each band or combination of bands tells a different story.”

 

The drone monitors slopes, aspect, elevation, fertiliser history and soil types and can identify weeds from crops planted.

The tool involved, GIS, is a powerful piece of software which is used as a database. An event is entered and modelled to find patterns of and relationships between events. For instance, Neill can model the way grass grows in a particular location based on weather patterns.

He’ll supply a farmer with a spatial map showing what he or she requires, such as the perfect time to plant or harvest a crop and specific factors which will influence growth.

Instead of farmers ploughing through a 50-page report, they can look at a map. Depending on their requirements, this might show deficits or excesses of water and nitrogen in a crop, the location of hidden drains or identify hazards during fertiliser distribution.

The technology enables farmers to be more precise in their land use, Neill says.

He notes that most computers couldn’t even open the files for the work Land IQ Insights does – one file alone measures between 200 and 300 gigabytes!

In his work for farmers and occasionally quarries, he travels throughout New Zealand, including the Chatham Islands.

As a mature student at the University of Otago, Neill gained a degree in Spatial Land Information. He collaborates closely with the university and two companies in Palmerston and Queenstown.

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