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How Drones Are Taking Nadia Shakoor's Farm Tech Invention To the Next Level

The FieldDock is an all-in-one platform that gathers real-time measurements of crops, humidity to soil pH.
Agrela Technologies
Nadia Shakoor
The FieldDock is an all-in-one platform that gathers real-time measurements of crops, humidity to soil pH.

As a plant scientist, Nadia Shakoor has spent hours in crop fields manually gathering data for the Danforth Plant Science Center. Collecting field data often requires many pieces of equipment and sensors.

But Shakoor is seeking to change that. She developed the PheNode device in 2017, which she describes as an “all-in-one, plug-and-play system.”

The idea is to have a platform that sends research data gathered in the fields on one device, Shakoor explained on Friday’s St. Louis on the Air. The PheNode system is also solar powered and can send data to a phone or computer.

“The PheNode is actually transmitting its data live. So we’re able to, in real time, monitor what’s happening outdoors and outside in our fields,” she said. The sensors and cameras on the tool take real-time measurements of everything from humidity to soil pH.

In July, Shakoor received a $1.4 million federal grant to take PheNode to the next level. Her team at Agrela Ecosystems, a startup she founded in St. Louis in 2016, is developing an automated drone, called FieldDock, which goes hand-in-hand with PheNode.

Shakoor explained that the drone is able to expand the coverage area of what the PheNode could sense. It detects when the weather's nice, flies out, collects the data and imports that data into a cloud system.

“It's something that you can just set a schedule and manage your farm; there's just that automated kind of aspect of it. It takes time [and] someone with licenses and such to fly drones, and skill. So taking that out of the equation, I think it’s both a time and money saver,” Shakoor said.

Shakoor said farmers have expressed interest in using new and better technologies to track things like soil quality and water use. And while her research was originally designed for crop research, one farmer has expressed an interest in using FieldDock to monitor livestock.

“We've also received interest from smart highway programs who are interested in monitoring pollutants coming off of cars with air quality sensors on the PheNodes,” she added.

Agrela Ecosystems is gearing up to offer the PheNode to consumers in January 2021. Shakoor plans on having prototypes of the FieldDock drone ready by late next year.

St. Louis on the Air” brings you the stories of St. Louis and the people who live, work and create in our region. The show is hosted by Sarah Fenske and produced by Alex Heuer, Emily Woodbury, Evie Hemphill and Lara Hamdan. The audio engineer is Aaron Doerr.

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Lara is the Engagement Editor at St. Louis Public Radio.

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