MRes Studentship: Aerial-based autonomous crop sampling


  • Qualification type: MRes
  • Subject area: Mechatronics, Aerospace Engineering, Food security
  • Location/Campus: College Lane
  • Start date: 1 August 2024
  • Closing application date: 31 May 2024
  • Duration: 1 year

Project outline

Once a crop is sown, farmers have only one tool to protect their crop from diseases; fungicides. Fungicides are expensive in the context of arable crops. Up to three sprays per season will typically cost £25 to 100 per hectare. This is a significant cost when the harvested crop might fetch a maximum of £2000 per hectare. For horticultural crops, such as vegetables and wine grapes, the costs and yield potentials are ten to a hundred times higher.

The ability to identify and quantify pathogens and sub-specific variants (such as fungicide-resistant strains or novel pathotypes) in infected plant material is necessary to give farmers and biosecurity officials the information needed to decide to combat any infection. The traditional method to collect physical plant samples is manually by a person on foot. This method suffers from long time and labour-intensive work (especially for large fields), selection bias from human samplers, and potential crop damage during sampling. An unmanned aircraft (i.e, drone) mounted plant sample collection device would eliminate these problems.

The aim of this project is to develop, build, and test a prototype crop sampling module that can be attached to a drone and flown across a field, pasture, or forest and collect representative samples of leaves to demonstrate the proposed solution. Key objectives will be:

  1. To finalise a design, build, and demonstrate by testing a working method and prototype for a collector device that is able to automatically detect and sample crop material.
  2. To field test the crop sampling system in an autonomous flight mission on at least one crop type.

At the end of the research project a working prototype, able to collect separately stored samples of leaf cuttings for viable pathogen and nucleic acid sequencing, will be achieved and demonstrated.


Principal supervisor: Dr Peter Thomas

Second supervisor: Ms Joanna Rawska

Entry requirements


  • A first or upper second-class degree (or equivalent) in a relevant discipline such as mechatronics, electronics engineering, computer science, etc.
  • Knowledge in programming hardware boards and embedded systems (MCUs, DSP, FPGAs, Arduino, etc.).
  • Knowledge in machine vision systems, e.g., image and pattern recognition.
  • Ability to implement specialised, innovative ideas into code.
  • Ability to work collaboratively and manage time independently to meet deadlines.
  • Problem-solving skills and attention to detail.
  • Excellent oral and written English communication skills, including the ability to communicate with clarity on complex information.
  • Excellent IT literacy.
  • Applicants must be self-motivated.


  • A relevant master’s degree will be an advantage.
  • Publications in high-impact international journals and conferences.


The studentship is open to applicants who are permanently resident in the UK and who qualify for home fees status only.

How to apply

Informal enquires can be made to Dr Peter Thomas

Please download and complete an application form

In section 11 you must provide a comprehensive personal statement of up to 500 words describing your motivation to do research on this project at the University of Hertfordshire, and providing information on how you meet any of the essential or desirable requirements described above.

Please also send with your application form:

  • A research proposal not exceeding 1 page.
  • Two academic references. Applicants should request their referees to send references direct to the Doctoral College
  • Copies of qualification certificates and transcripts.
  • Certification of English language competence (minimum IELTS 6.5 or equivalent) for candidates for whom English is not their first language.

Your completed application should be emailed to the Doctoral College

Closing date for applications: 31 May 2024.

Interview dates: Middle of June 2024.

Expected studentship start date: 1 August 2024 (or as soon as possible thereafter).

Funding information

Please note that the studentship is available to applicants permanently resident in the UK and who qualify for home fees status only, as result of the available source of funding. The award includes cover for tuition fees and a stipend at standard UKRI rates. For 2023-2024 this is set at £18,622. The stipends usually increase annually in line with inflation.