Lasers, drones and AI: The future of weeding


Lasers, drones and AI: The future of weeding, No-one likes weeding, but new technology is helping farmers around the world tackle weeds in a more efficient and environmentally friendly way. Deanna Kovar from US farming equipment giant John Deere says that the company’s new tractor-pulled weed sprayer can reduce herbicide use by two thirds.

Lasers, drones and AI

Lasers, drones and AI: The future of weeding,The system, called See & Spray Ultimate, looks like a typical field sprayer, in that two long arms or “booms” stick out either side of the tractor, with spraying nozzles dotted along the underside of each.

What makes this sprayer far more high-tech, is that it is fitted with 36 cameras. These constantly scan the plants in front of them, instantly identifying what is a crop and what is a weed.

Lasers, drones and AI: The future of weeding, Controlled by an artificial intelligence (AI) software system, the connected sprinklers then only spray herbicide onto the individual weeds rather than drenching the entire field. Our system is capturing two million pixels per second, so it is seeing and processing a lot,” says Ms Kovar, who is vice president of Production and Precision Agriculture Production Systems at John Deere.

Lasers, drones and AI: The future of weeding, To help the software identify the weeds, there are more than 300,000 images on a John Deere database. The system currently works with three crops – corn, soybean and cotton – and is so far only available in the US. For farmers elsewhere in the world, a number of rival firms, both large and small, have developed similar smart-weeding technologies.

The biggest challenge in  farming is how weeds compete with crops for space, nutrients and water,” says Nadav Bocher, chief executive and co-founder of Israeli firm Greeneye Technology, another manufacturer of AI-powered precision weeding systems.

It’s hard to imagine what kind of catastrophic damage farming has done in the past decades [due to excessive use of herbicide],” says Mr Bocher, who claims that Greeneye’s system can reduce usage levels by 80%. With such a high level of soil pollution created for no reason, that goes back to us as consumers, and hurts the entire ecosystem.

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