One of the most fundamental challenges in field phenomics is moving instruments over field plots at a speed that ensures high throughput but avoids damaging plants or compacting the soil excessively. Measurements must be geo-referenced accurately enough to identify individual plots. Among vehicle options are:

  • High-Clearance Tractors or Similar Powered Vehicles
  • Push carts
  • Crane-based systems including mounting sensors on irrigation structures
  • Unmanned aerial vehicles ("drones")
  • Tethered aerostats ("balloons")

The sections below introduce different vehicle options.

There are diverse criteria one can apply in assessing the different options. Given the newness of field phenomics, it should be no surprise that people hold strong and divergent opinions over the "best" options and the importance of different criteria. We welcome discussion over the relative merits of different vehicles.


High-Clearance Tractors or Similar, Powered Vehicles

We have developed a range of vehicles that incorporate high-precision GPS and active sensors to assay crop parameters and geo-reference each measurement.



Hand Carts

A less expensive version of the vehicle using renewable energy sources for locomotion.


White, J. W. and M. M. Conley (2013). "A Flexible, Low-Cost Cart for Proximal Sensing." Crop Sci. 53(4): 1646-1649.


Jared Crain and Yong Wei have lead development of a low-cost handheld version of the phenotyper call 'Phenocart'.



More information and downloads for Phenocart.



Crane-Type Vehicles

IRRI Crane

Light-duty crane at IRRI

The International Rice Research Institute (Los Baños, The Philippines) developed a gantry platform

that rides on the rails of its four rain-out shelters. The platform was very inexpensive to build using a light weight 7m aluminum main truss. The gantry was designed to fit the dimensions of their shelters, but the length could easily be extended to 15 m and still accommodate a payload of 10kg using standard 5 cm tubing. A few of the advantages of a fixed rail system include excellent stability, high spatial precision (mm level) without the need for GPS, great flexibility in terms of payload, ease of use, and low cost. It utilizes transfer rails between the 4 adjacent shelters thus allowing for any field configuration.

The system is battery powered with a solar charger, eliminating external power requirements. The current system incorporates multiple IRT's for canopy temperature, ultrasonic sensors for canopy height, an active multispectral sensor (Crop Circle AC470) for monitoring biomass, chla/N, greenness, growth, and responses to drought, and sensors for ambient air T, RH, PAR, and wind. The system uses a Campbell Sci data-logger for operation, control and data acquisition using RTMC, which can be done wireless using a variety of configurations (bluetooth, WIFI, radio, GSM).

For further information please contact Steve Klassen (s.klassen [at]

Unmanned Air Vehicles