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Calling Dr. Internet.

New online system offers speedy pest identification and disease diagnosis

Relief without the plop, plop, fizz, fizz. That's what producers could get for their sick plants with a new technology that speeds disease diagnosis time electronically.

The Distance Diagnostic and Identification System (DDIS) was recently developed jointly by extension agents, specialists and Institute of Food and Agricultural Sciences (IFAS) Information Technologies faculty at the University of Florida. The process involves taking photos of specimens, such as plants or insects, with a digital camera and archiving them on a computer server to be quickly retrieved and analyzed. The system associates images and related descriptions in a database.

The Java-based distributed system provides an environment to identify plant, insect and disease problems. The system uses Java Remote Method Invocation (RMI) technology, Java application, object database and e-mail. Users capture images of plant, insect and disease problems in the field using digital cameras. A Java application allows them to submit the images and associated data to an object database on a server.

When new data is posted in the database, an automatic e-mail notice is sent to a specialist. The sending agent is notified to retrieve the data after the specialist completes identification. The system provides an environment for agricultural extension agents and specialists to share information on plants, insects and diseases.

Through interactions on the Internet between extension agents and specialists, problems can be quickly assessed. Archived images, field data and recommendations are stored in the object database which archives them for training and educational programs.

Green health

Plant protection involves correct and timely identification and control of insects and diseases. Plant pests appear in many forms, but all attack the plant's health and if left untreated can lead to loss of yield or quality, and possible death. Plant diseases are often difficult to identify by growers. Accurate diagnosis can avoid the costly mistake of applying the wrong management inputs.

Although pest information is currently available on the Internet and through other sources, information exchange between extension agents and specialists is also often needed to determine solutions. Traditionally, when a plant disease problem arises, samples are collected and mailed to a specialist. Delivery via regular mail can take days, which leads to delays in disease control recommendations. Also, the plant samples often cannot be used once they arrive due to deterioration during mail time.

Internet technology can be used to complement and improve these traditional methods. The information technology industry is in the midst of shifts that are making fundamentally new applications possible. Recent development tools and platform technologies have emerged. The Internet, Java, XML, and component standards such as RMI, CORBA and DCOM are the building blocks for new distributed component-based applications.

The combination of Java and Java RMI provide capabilities to develop powerful object-oriented, distributed applications. The impacts of information technologies make it feasible to begin investing alternative approaches to extension program design and delivery. More Internet-based agricultural applications are being developed. Today, digital cameras that deliver clear image resolution are widely available.

DDIS Development

The client/server software system developed at UF/IFAS to identify plant pests and diseases began with the following objectives:

* to provide a tool for extension agents to rapidly submit and retrieve information related to management decisions on pest control,

* to create an archived digital library of plant problems to be used in training and educational programs and

* to create a database of associated information.

The system's basic architecture is a three-tier client/server application that includes the client, servlet and a database management system. It is a distributed Java-to-Java application in which methods of remote Java objects are invoked from other Java virtual machines on different hosts. The Java program calls a remote object on the server once it obtains a reference to that object by looking it up in the naming service provided by RMI.

On the client side, the main issue is the user interface. Compared with a form-based Web page, Java applets provide a more advanced method to transmit images and document data. The applet allows users to retrieve any number of images and submit them to the server through the RMI layer. Digital images can also be viewed actual size with no distortion.

The same Java applet is used by extension agents and specialists. The system operates like a sophisticated e-mail system in the user's viewpoint but contains a centralized digital library.

The procedure

A Java application was developed to provide an interactive environment between extension agents and specialists. From a user's viewpoint, the system operates like a sophisticated e-mail system with a centralized object database. First, extension agents collect digital samples of weeds or cultivated plants, insects or diseased plants using a digital camera, a stereoscope and/or a compound microscope mounted with a digital camera. Agents then use the DDIS client program to submit the digital samples and field data to an object database server.

The server automatically notifies the specialist that a diagnosis is needed. The specialists can then retrieve the submitted sample, also using the DDIS client program, and make an identification or diagnosis with recommendations. After this step is complete, the specialists submit their recommendations to the database. The system automatically notifies the sending agents that the diagnosis and recommendations are available. Agents can then retrieve a report.

Agents can also send a sample to multiple specialists for diagnosis. For example, a sample can be sent to a pathologist and a physiologist so they can collaborate on an answer. Multiple specialists could also send responses to the database.

DDIS is available at extension offices throughout Florida. Agents in 24 of the state's 67 counties are testing the next phase of the project, which equipped with digital camera adaptors on stereoscopes and microscopes, will produce more accurate, detailed images for diagnosis.

ASAE members Jiannong Xin and Fedro Zazueta, and Howard Beck, Larry Halsey and Jim Fletcher are faculty members at the Institute of Food an Agricultural Sciences, University of Florida.
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Title Annotation:Distance Diagnostic and Identification Systems, technology that speeds disease diagnosis time electronically
Author:Xin, Jiannong; Zazueta, Fedro; Beck, Howard; Halsey, Larry; Fletcher, Jim
Publication:Resource: Engineering & Technology for a Sustainable World
Geographic Code:1USA
Date:Sep 1, 2000
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