If there’s one thing that frustrates Anastasia Volkova, it’s inefficiency. So when she realized she could combine remote sensing data with scientific modeling to improve crop yields, reduce the use of agricultural chemicals, and make better use of water, she knew she’d found her life’s work. It didn’t matter that she was still pursuing her doctorate in aerospace at Sydney University or that she would need to single-handedly raise more than $5 million in startup money: Volkova, the daughter of a self-taught botanist and the goddaughter of a successful farmer, wanted to fix what she thought was wrong with large-scale farming.
Her resulting venture, Flurosat, uses imaging sensors on satellites, planes, and drones to detect when crops are in trouble long before their distress is discernible to the naked eye. Like humans, plants spike a fever when they’re sick. They also heat up in response to pests or because they’re not getting the nutrition or water they need. Flurosat uses multispectral and thermal cameras to record these changes and AI to calibrate crop models. Comparing a real crop with its digital twin then enables Volkova and her team to make real-time recommendations to agronomists and farm managers about what their yields need to thrive.
This kind of monitoring and support could reduce the overuse of nitrogen, pesticides, and herbicides and optimize irrigation.