The technology associated with videogaming is being in the war against weeds.
Researchers at the University of Southern Queensland’s National Centre for Engineering in Agriculture have leveraged off the automotive and gaming industries and developed a high-tech precision weed spot sprayer.
Senior Research Engineer Steven Rees said agricultural industries needed military grade electronics and technology, but at a price farmers could afford.
Dr Rees said the development of the weed spot sprayer was led by the issue of herbicide resistance, with cost savings a secondary benefit.
Researchers have developed three different systems; one for the horticulture industry, another for sugar and the third for broadacre application.
“The technologies are similar in that they use processors and cameras and they can identify either weed or crop,” he said.
“The difference comes in the amount of processing that we do; so in horticulture, where they want specific weeds identified, we need to do a lot of processing and therefore it’s a more expensive system and there are a lot more algorithms used.
“With the broadacre system, where we want to go into a fallow and kill anything that’s green or we want to go into a crop of wheat and identify where the crop is and just trigger the system where there’s a patch of weeds, that requires a lot less calculations and algorithms,” he said.
Dr Rees said the weed spraying system had potential beyond the application of herbicides and fungicides.
“The systems can also do biomass so we can tell how big the crop is on the row and you can adjust your fungicides accordingly,” he said.
More cost effective to leverage off ‘wealthier’ industries’ technology
“[The system] uses processors that are used in the gaming industry but they’re also in the automotive industry, in self-driving cars,” he said.
Using commercially available, off-the-shelf technology has helped researchers keep the cost of the system as low as possible.
“We’re getting robust product at quite a competitive price and that’ll allow us to be able to put this into the industry at a price farmers can afford,” Dr Rees said.
“So being able to leverage off the back of the automotive industry and the gaming industry and getting these robust technologies at a consumer electronic price is a really big advantage,” he said.
Researchers at the National Centre for Engineering in Agriculture are now in the process of licencing the product and hoped to have it commercially available within three years.
Crop health will then be the next frontier for researchers to tackle.
“As we go along and we’re spot spraying the weeds, we’ll be assessing the health of the crop and be able to store that data as we go along and then use that to map the plant growth,” Dr Rees said.
“We’ll be able to take traditionally broadacre crops and start applying intensive cropping techniques where you actually know what all of your crop is doing,” he said.