New Startup Pheno-Inspect accelerates plant breeding

What’s the growth like? Have pests and diseases struck? Are the increased droughts affecting the plants? Anyone who breeds new plant varieties has to collect extensive data on question like plant growth, diseases or environmental effects. The startup Pheno-Inspect aims to accelerate plant breeding. The cameras of a drone record the plant populations, and software automatically evaluates their properties using artificial intelligence methods. This quickly shows whether the new breed has been successful or not. The project is funded by the “START-UP-Hochschul-Ausgr√ľndungen” program with around 270,000 euros.

The drone flies over the plant breeder’s plots. It continuously takes pictures of the stands, which are later automatically evaluated by artificial intelligence. On the basis of the results, the breeder can evaluate which varieties are particularly suitable with regard to the breeding objective. “Due to the growing world population, even higher yields will have to be produced in agriculture in the future while the area remains the same,” says Philipp Lottes, scientific assistant at the Institute for Geodesy and Geoinformation at the University of Bonn. “The current bottleneck in the development of new and better varieties is phenotyping in the field.”

This is still a very complex process in plant breeding. In phenotyping, experts determine the appearance – the phenotype – of plants. In future, the collection of this data could be automated using artificial intelligence. The start-up company “Pheno-Inspect”, whose founder is Lottes, is driving these plans forward. The geodesist already dealt with machine learning methods for plant recognition during his doctorate. In his doctoral thesis, which was also written at the University of Bonn in the context of PhenoRob, he developed methods for recording images of plant stands with drones.  

Together with his mentor Prof. Dr. Cyrill Stachniss, head of the working group for photogrammetry and robotics at the University of Bonn, the geodesist is now funded in the program “START-UP University Spin-offs” of the State of North Rhine-Westphalia and the European Union. Over the next 18 months Pheno-Inspect will be funded with around 270,000 euros to inspect the phenotype.