Over the past three years, research drones from the Heidelberg University of Education have followed the same pattern – they circled over the meadow orchards in the community of Bad Schönborn, between Heidelberg and Karlsruhe. The drones covered an area of about 500 hectares (1.93 square miles), of which ten were meadow orchards comprised of two-thirds apple trees and then pears, walnuts, plums, and cherries. They were programmed to classify and evaluate fruit trees automatically by conducting a comprehensive digital monitoring survey. The trees were categorized based on their state of health in order to provide targeted care measures to enhance their vitality.
The project is the result of a collaboration between Audi Environmental Foundation and other organizations, such as the Countryside Conservation Association for the Karlsruhe District and the Bad Schönborn Task Force for Local Nature and Environment (AHNU). Here’s what they found out: around 20% of the stock needed urgent care, about half required a lesser amount of care, followed by 28%, which didn’t require any maintenance.
The true challenge of this initiative was processing the immense volume of data they obtained from the survey, according to Alexander Siegmund, Professor of Physical Geography and head of the project team at the Heidelberg University of Education. He said, “They took a picture every two seconds, which added up to about 120,000 images. Creating a valid general picture out of all this data required enormous computing power.”
Besides the drone images, multispectral images taken from the air were used to obtain information regarding the intensity of photosynthesis in trees. Sick trees perform less photosynthesis, and light is reflected in a different way compared to healthy trees. Other elements were also considered when assessing the vitality of the trees, such as the proportion of deadwood, treetop density, and length of new shoots.
Rüdiger Recknagel, Director of the Audi Environmental Foundation, said, “The work of our foundation unites the use of modern technologies with a conservation mindset. This project combines scientific expertise with environmental education and individual engagement. The local people acquire new knowledge through active participation and derive personal satisfaction from harvesting the fruits of the trees they have sponsored."
The meadow orchard project perfectly showcases the use of modern geotechnology for conserving the landscape and raising public awareness regarding this matter. The local people can enhance their knowledge about the environment and also enjoy the fruit of their work (quite literally).