3-D Imaging Systems for Agricultural Applications—A Review


Currently, 3-D sensors are becoming smaller, smarter, and cheaper. Therefore, technology breakthroughs are already possible if enough research were commercialized, a statement justified by the fact that some commercial implementations in agriculture are mentioned in this paper. Since agricultural environments are substantially complex, 3-D vision can play an increasing role in enhanced perception that could be suitable in a number of applications in every agricultural scenarios. The true value of 3-D data lies precisely in the superior sensing capabilities compared to 2-D. Several market forecasts have recently appeared around topics such as LED lighting, 3-D sensors, UAVs, and agricultural automation and robotics. Almost all of them forecast a profitable market for these interconnected topics by the end of the decade. Some 3-D techniques have either not been tested (i.e., photometric stereo, shape-from-polarization, shape-from-zooming, flash LIDAR) or more research has to be done with the rich variety of 3-D imaging techniques in agricultural applications (i.e., interferometry, light field, CTCs). 2-D and 3-D fusion is very promising, since it takes the advantages of the two, and has proved to be useful for either obtaining more information about the object’s surface or facilitating the image segmentation process. All 3-D sensors are sensitive in one way or another to sunlight, however, more research needs to be done to reduce its effects and stop relying on shading devices. As a matter of fact, a positive effect of this disadvantage is that autonomous night farming could be investigated more thoroughly since 3-D sensors behave properly in this environment.

This review presents the rich variety of 3-D imaging techniques that have not been tested, the potential of the ones that have already been tested (due to the increase of their technical characteristics), the working principle behind the 3-D imaging sensors, and the potential of consumer 3-D sensors in agricultural applications. The pace of change in 3-D imaging technology is accelerating, therefore, the possibilities of this technology are immense. Reasons like reduced labour availability, scarcity of natural resources, and consumer demand for quality products are driving the need for automation in agriculture. Since 3-D vision is a key technology for automation, more implementations are yet to come.

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