Smart canopy monitoring system for reduction of plant protection agents use

02/09/2019

Summary

This technology description is about smart canopy monitoring system for reduction of plant protection agents use.

Technology Description

New emerging autonomous field robots inventors are developing on will soon take care of labour extensive operations, such as spraying the plants, to protect them in order to optimize the yield at the harvest. The next logical step is to build a smart sensory system that would go a step further than the “new” on-off solutions offered by some farm technology producers as an upgrade to traditional spraying equipment that applies plant protection agents (PPAs) in high quantities evenly through the field. But the spraying can be plant-specific and what is needed is a monitoring system that detects it, determines its properties and adjusts the flow of PPAs accordingly. Due to increasing demand for food production we cannot eliminate its usage completely, but we can use technology to serve our needs and apply PPAs in a smarter way, helping us to preserve nature. The latest studies show that by adjusting the flow of PPAs their usage can be cut in half or even more.

Main advantages

By using a smart canopy monitoring system, the usage of PPA would lower but preserve the same effect. This means lower costs when treating the plants, less fuel consumed on recharge returns and a possibility for unmanned operation resulting in less labour-intensive operations. This would represent a significant economic advantage for food producers and, what is possibly the most important, the reduction of the negative impact that PPAs have on the environment.

The most crucial components of this system are the algorithms that were already developed at the department in cooperation with industrial partners (AMPS Peter Lepej s. p.). As the hardware system represents a simple, straightforward solution, the system will be low cost and easy to integrate on existing spraying equipment, so widely available to a wide range of customers.

Stage of development

The technology is in the TRL 5- Technology validated in a relevant environment.

The underlying parts needed to make the smart monitoring system work were already developed and tested in the lab. This includes a completely new approach to localization and mapping (SLAM) and an approach to reconstruct 3D natural scenes as point clouds. SLAM algorithm plays an important part needed for accurate localization of the spraying system. As most SLAM algorithms fail due to changing conditions of the natural environment, a more robust version was developed and tested. The 3D reconstruction is the subsequent step used to build a virtual representation of the environment in order to detect the properties of the plants in each location.

What is needed is the final step to combine technological solutions, make it as one prototype product and test it in the real environment by using manned agriculture machinery or unmanned robotic platforms.

Challenge and needs

In order to build a robust and reliable system, the following steps will have to be solved.

  • Sensor placement and an upgrade of the standard sprayer system (electro-magnetic valves).
  • Integration of the existing algorithms for accurate localization (FieldSLAM) of the system.
  • Adaptation of the canopy detection system used for 3D reconstruction needed for spraying intensity control.

In order to complete the system in a designated time frame:

  • A partner with close to market field robot will be looked for where the sensing system will be integrated in the shortest time frame possible by omitting the need to build a special electric circuit to control the mobile platform.
  • External expert(s) will be hired to prepare the hardware and software setup on the mobile platform.

The solution has the potential to become a standard piece of equipment for every spraying system in agriculture.

Intellectual property

The results directly connected to the purposed solution are already published in:

  1. LEPEJ, Peter, RAKUN, Jurij. Simultaneous localisation and mapping in a complex field environment. Biosystems Engineering, ISSN 1537-5110. [Print ed.], October 2016, vol. 150, pp. 160-169, ilustr. http://ac.elscdn.com/S1537511015302841/1-s2.0-S1537511015302841-main. pdf?_tid=05a783f4-75c3-11e6-affa-00000aab0f6b&acdnat=1473339295_f087c552b164721891fbe2320ca62c5d. [COBISS.SI-ID 4202540],
  2. BERK, Peter, BELŠAK, Aleš, STAJNKO, Denis, LAKOTA, Miran, MUŠKINJA, Nenad, HOČEVAR, Marko, RAKUN, Jurij.Intelligent automated system based on a fuzzy logic system for plant protection product control in orchards. International journal of agricultural and biological engineering, ISSN 1934-6344, 2019, vol. 12, no. 3, pp. 92-102, ilustr. https://www.ijabe.org/index.php/ijabe/article/view/4476, doi: 10.25165/j.ijabe.20191203.4476. [COBISS.SIID4583468]
  3. LEPEJ, Peter, LAKOTA, Miran, RAKUN, Jurij. Robotic real-time 3D object reconstruction using multiple laser range finders. V: TAYLOR, James (ur.), et al. Precision Agriculture '17 : papers presented at the 11th European Conference on Precision Agriculture (ECPA 2017), John McIntyre Centre, Edinburgh, UK, [July 16-20 2017], (Advances in Animal Biosciences, ISSN 2040-4700, Vol. 8, Iss. 2). Cambridge: Cambridge University Press. 2017, pp. 183-188, ilustr.[COBISS.SI-ID 4340268]

Potential markets and targets

The Global Smart Robot Market is expected to reach $7.85 billion by 2020, registering a CAGR of 19.2% between 2015 to 2020. A smart robot is designed to carry out various operations without the interference of humans. A smart robot uses an artificial intelligence (AI) system that can learn from its environment and its experience.

Although the monitoring system will be tested on an actual field robot, this is not the only type of equipment where it can be used; it can be used on autonomous platforms or it can be used on everyday agriculture machinery as well. This can be done with moderate modification to the existing spraying system so it can be used virtually on any spraying setup where canopy thickness can play an important factor in PPA reduction. As the system is not vendor locked, it will be offered as an add-on-system to different manufacturers of farm equipment, making it available for every farmer that wants to preserve the environment, with lower costs and with the same effect to the protection of plants.

There are no systems like this on the market at the moment that could differentiate plants from other objects and adjust the flow of PPAs accordingly. The closest is the on-off systems that some producers offer as an addition their spraying equipment and are built around simple ultrasonic switches that close the valves when there are no perpendicular surfaces in front of the sensor and open when there are – useful only to close the valves when the tractor is turning.

Potential partners

Potential international partners should have an existing commercial or experimental prototype mobile platform with supporting electronic circuit already developed and integrated for fast and accurate testing of the proposed solution. The partner should help to include this experimental setup on the mobile platform and test in real conditions, such as vineyards or orchards.

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