Artificial Intelligence: Intelligent Sugarcane Herbicide Sprayer Helps Save Great Barrier Reef

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Herbicides in the water runoff from canefields alongside river catchments connected to the Great Barrier Reef are a hazard.

James Cook University College of Science and Engineering senior lecturer, Mostafa Rahimi Azghadi, is overseeing a project to develop a new robotic sprayer for weeds in canefields.

The sprayer will reduce the use of herbicides by up to 80% because it uses a targeted spraying method instead of a wider, “at-will” distribution.  (ABC News)

Great Barrier Reef

The researchers are aiming to reduce the environmental impact of herbicide run-off from canefields into the Great Barrier Reef.

“Most herbicides are carried in river run-off and have been detected in GBR ecosystems at concentrations high enough to affect organisms,” says Dr. Azghadi.

These chemicals are known to cause a decline in water quality and seagrass die-offs. By reducing run-offs, the reef can be kept healthy.

However, sugarcane farms are only 1.4% of the reef catchment area. But they contribute 95% of the pesticide load draining to the Great Barrier Reef.

A robotic sprayer for canefields

The researchers train the software of the sprayer via deep learning and machine learning algorithms. “These are the algorithms Facebook uses to detect human faces,” says Dr. Azghadi. (NASDAQ: FB)

For the purpose, the farmer needs to take about 10 images of the target weed for the software to recognize the weed.

Once trained, the robotic sprayer would be mounted on the back of a vehicle. Cameras would feed images of the field. The neural network would activate the sprayer to release herbicide whenever it recognized a weed from its training.

“It is using AI and deep learning to see the weed and detect if it is the weed of interest and spray it right away,” Dr. Azghadi said. “It only sprays the weed and not the plant around it.”

Benefits of the AI

Because the farmers would apply the herbicides in a targeted fashion, they would use far less of the chemicals, thus saving money. Additionally, they would save time.

“When you use less herbicide, not only are you saving the herbicide cost for the farmers, you’re basically having less herbicide running off to the Great Barrier Reef,” Dr. Azghadi said.

Related Story:   Blue River’s Massive Robots For Precision Spraying Weeds

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