Tracking ash dieback from the skies

Single ash tree- shutterstock

The Wytham Woods team are working with academics including Professor Paul Newman of the Engineering faculty – a leading expert on robotics and driverless cars – to monitor the spread of ash dieback through the Woods. Scientists are developing drones that can use multispectral imaging to spot infected ash trees; in October and November they carried out test flights to gather data on how much the drones could carry and which wavelengths of light would reveal the disease most clearly. After the results are analysed, the first research flights should take place in spring. Initially the flights will be manually piloted but the eventual hope is for the drones to fly autonomously. Professor Newman’s group are interested because navigating the three-dimensional space above the Woods poses new challenges compared to moving around in two dimensions on a road.