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Microphotonic plant discrimination and weed control sensor

The growing phenomenon of crop resistance to herbicides and the spiralling costs of weed management continue to increase the cost of food production and reducing farmers' ability to maintain profitability. The cost of weed management to Australian farmers now exceeds $4 billion dollars per year in addition to the indirect costs that result from yield loss, poor returns, loss of productive areas and contamination as a result of weed growth.

Site-specific crop management is dependent on sophisticated monitoring technologies that can detect the presence of weeds and therefore enable precision spraying of herbicides. This creates a demand for real-time monitoring solutions that are usable at common operating speeds in order to detect individual weeds and release herbicides only when weeds are detected.

Through an industry project with Photonic Detection Systems (PDS) Pty Ltd, the Electron Science Research Institute successfully demonstrated an advanced photonics-based weed sensor for differentiation between various plant types.

This successful research program demonstrated the potential for development of a ground based sensor engine and associated systems that could enable real-time detection of weeds within crops allowing for highly precise spraying of weeds. This enables, for the first time, spraying of only weeds in the post emergent stages of crop growth. It is this stage in the crop cycle where weed control is critical to increasing crop yield.

This project is currently focussing on the development of a pre-production prototype that is capable of discriminating key commercial crops from the majority of weed species in a real-world environment at regular operating speeds. The prototype is a world leader in that it is designed to perform the following functions:

  • detect weeds within post emergent crops ("green from green");
  • operate at the speed of farm vehicles (> 20 km/hr);
  • operate in non-flat terrains;
  • identify narrow-leafed weeds and crops; and
  • compensate for on-the-fly changes in laser configuration through software-based controls, allowing customisation to a given crop or weed and enabling the system to account for daily and seasonal variations in plant reflectance characteristics.

The technology can be used across a variety of weed control applications beyond the farm including roadside verges, footpaths, railways and any situation requiring selective weed management.


Researchers

Dr Sreten Askraba
Arie Paap
Dr Hoang Nghia Nguyen
Professor Kamal Alameh

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