Robotic Volatile Sampling for Early Detection of Plant Stress


In this article we show the use of aerial robots to deploy sensors capable of detecting the chemical signals that plants emit when attacked by herbivores.

Did you know that stressed-​out plants have a unique smell?

When plants face threats from herbivores like caterpillars, they release volatile organic compounds (VOCs). VOCs act as excellent early warning systems, being released within seconds to hours, with the specific mixture depending on the type of stress the plant is experiencing. In contrast, the visual symptoms detected through remote sensing take days to weeks to become apparent. Detecting stress as early as possible is crucial to maximize the effectiveness of treatments and reduce crop loss.

For the past year, we have been collaborating with Meredith C Schuman at the Spatial Genetics Lab to develop robot-​assisted solution for collecting VOCs in maize fields and vineyards. We are excited to share that our first results have been published in the IEEE Robotics and Automation Magazine. This work represents a first step in using aerial robots to automate the collection of VOCs in the fields, opening up new possibilities for precision agriculture beyond traditional visual remote sensing.

Congratulations to Christian Geckeler and Sergio Ramos, and a big thank you to the Zurich-​Basel Plant Science Center and Syngenta for their support.