Artificial Intelligence: Blue River’s Massive Robots For Precision Spraying Weeds
Smart machines using artificial intelligence are making farmers’ lives easier.
A growing world population is placing increasing demand for food on existing resources such as land, water, and nutrients. Add to this the challenges from climate change, plant disease, and attacks from pests and weeds. Agricultural output is under pressure at a time of rising demand, and the race is on to find agricultural methods, technology, and tools to enhance farming efficiency. At Blue River Technology, a subsidiary of John Deere (NYSE: DE), they are building smart agricultural robots that precisely spray weeds with herbicide in real-time. (Medium.com)
Blue River Technology agricultural robots
Pictured above is a 2017 prototype of See & Spray, Blue River Technology’s precision weed control machine.
Nowadays, the company’s weeding robots apply a variety of technologies in their mission to identify and spray weeds. Cameras, computer vision, machine learning, and robotics combine to make these machines as smart as they are big. Using AutoTrac, the machines navigate through an agricultural field and quickly spray only the weeds in their path. However, they leave the crop plants untouched and intact.
The sophisticated, high-resolution cameras mounted on the weeding robot collect images as the machine moves along the field.
AI known as a conventional neural network (CNN) rapidly identifies the weeds in the images and creates a target map of weeds in the field.
The robot thereafter sprays only the weeds.
Since the entire process of identification and spraying takes place in real-time and on the machine without recourse to the cloud, imagine its brute computing strength.
“The total computing power onboard the robot just dedicated to visual inference and spray robotics is on par with IBM’s supercomputer, Blue Gene (2007),” writes Chris Padwick, Director of Computer Vision and Machine Learning at Blue River Technology. “This makes this a machine with some of the highest compute capacity of any moving machine in the world!”
According to the Blue River website, farmers around the world spend $25 billion annually to buy 3 billion pounds of herbicides to apply on 250 species of weeds.
Unfortunately, with the rise of herbicide-tolerant weeds, there are fewer and fewer effective solutions for their eradication. With over-application, weeds become herbicide-tolerant and can hurt farmers’ crops as well as their livelihood.
However, using AI-powered, precision spraying farmers can dramatically reduce the quantum of herbicide without losing efficacy.
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