Birmensdorf ZH/Zurich – The Swiss Federal Institute for Forest, Snow and Landscape Research (WSL) has developed a microwave radiometer that is carried by a drone. It can detect water deep in the ground, snow and ice. The WSL’s first spin-off is to bring the device to market.

Image credit: WSL-Video

According to a press release from the WSL, the research institute has been developing microwave radiometers since 1995 and these have been used in projects by the space agencies NASA (USA) and ESA (Europe), among others. Now WSL researchers have managed to design a radiometer that is light and small enough to be carried by a drone, the press release explains further. The device, which has been constructed for agricultural technology, has been brought to market by the Zurich-based company TerraRad Tech, which is the WSL’s first spin-off.

The WSL writes that the new radiometer is “a cost-effective alternative to satellite and ground-based moisture measurements”. These measurements are required to understand and limit the damage to arable land that is drying out, melting glaciers or forest fires, among other things. Satellite-supported systems only enable limited conclusions to be drawn from the retrieved data due to the great distance, according to the press release, while ground-based single point measurements can only provide a limited amount of data. In contrast, the WSL’s microwave radiometer works at an electromagnetic frequency that is highly sensitive to liquid water and enables specialists to detect “water deep within soil, snow and ice”. 

Christoph Hegg, Acting Director of the WSL, is quoted in the press release, saying: “We are very pleased that our many years of research and projects in the field of microwave remote sensing have resulted in a groundbreaking product. The new company will act independently, but the ongoing collaboration with WSL will help to continuously optimize and further develop microwave remote sensing systems.”

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