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Customer story: Monitoring plant wellbeing more accurately, more quickly


Specim hyperspectral images

​A SAM based identification of lichen species from a lichen dominated heath in Rokua, Finland. Areas identified as Cladonia stellaris and Cladonia rangiferina are indicated in yellow and blue respectively. The unidentified lichen areas consist mainly of Cladonia arbuscula. Images: Markku Keinänen, Lars Granlund (University of Eastern Finland)

​Hyperspectral imaging is an extremely accurate method to identify and distinguish different materials based on the light reflection properties of chemical compounds. Specim set out to miniaturise chemical imaging from bulky industrial equipment down to a hand-held, point-and-shoot device for more efficient plant stress and disease monitoring.

In 1993, VTT researchers, in collaboration with NASA, developed the world’s first spectrographic imaging systems for professional airborne use. In 1995, three of these researchers founded a company, Specim, to commercialise this work. Since then, Specim has been in the forefront of reliable high-performance hyperspectral imaging technologies, used in research institutes, universities, the pharma industry, geology, military applications, environmental analytics, hydrology, plant breeding and crime labs. They operate through chemical imaging, capable of establishing the chemistry of materials and changes occurring in them. More than 6,000 Specim instruments and spectrographs are in daily use around the world. The company has received several innovation awards and sizable external capital investment.

Hyperspectral imaging sees more than the eye

Hyperspectral imaging provides significant speed and accuracy in monitoring crop plants and vegetation, for example stress and disease detection in the field or in a greenhouse. Differences in the material composition and biological well-being of living plants can be accurately identified. For example, if a plant disease is found in one location in the field, the device will find the same disease in other locations where it might not be visible to the eye. The ability to detect and characterise plant diseases rapidly and in a cost-efficient way differentiates this technology from other technologies.

On a wider scale, hyperspectral imaging provides an effective method to monitor entire vegetation ecosystems. So-called Vegetation Indices calculated from the visible and near-infrared spectrum are commonly used to evaluate structural and functional traits in vegetation both qualitatively and quantitatively, which aids in estimating photosynthesis efficiency. These capabilities help improve the quality and safety monitoring in food production – in precision agriculture, for example, the findings can be applied to site-specific fertilisation or precise plant protection with pesticides.

“VTT brought vital algorithm and UI/UX knowhow into the project when we set the target to create an intuitive and easy-to-use user interface for the mobile hyperspectral camera platform. Cooperation with the VTT team was truly seamless and we were privileged to work with world-class professionals and involve their expertise in Specim IQ development,” says Harri Salo, Program Manager, Specim.

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