New Norwegian system for focused warfare on weeds

Weed-killer consumption could be cut in half if farmers sprayed it only on weed-infested areas.

Posted by Åse Dragland

Weed-killer consumption could be cut in half if farmers sprayed it only on weed-infested areas instead of wasting these chemicals by spraying whole fields.

The Weedcer image-processing system could prove to be an important tool for Norwegian agriculture and for the thousands of farmers who spray their fields with weed-killer every year. The program can distinguish between weeds and useful plants in real-time during spraying, making it possible to spray only the plants that we wish to eliminate.

The project involves Bioforsk Plantehelse, which has identified damage thresholds, i.e. the level of infestation required to trigger spraying, the agriculture technology and equipment manufacturers DAT and Adigo, and scientists from SINTEF, who have contributed algorithms and image-processing techniques.

Weeds with rounded leaves

“To be able to distinguish between weeds and other plants in the soil, we have identified characteristics and information in images that can discriminate and recognise different objects. For example, corn leaves are long and narrow, while weeds tend to have more rounded leaves,” says Kristin Kaspersen.

When a video-camera films the soil and sends its images to the computer, they can be analysed in real-time, the different types of leaves can be recognised, and the amount of weeds and thus of weed-killer can be determined.

The next steps

The project, which has been under way since 2007, is an example of how pattern recognition can be used to solve problems in which the amount of data is too big to handle or where the data are diffuse and difficult to deal with. Adigo has produced a self-navigating four-wheeled robot that can drive around a field. The idea is to integrate the mechanism into a box on the spray-boom mounted behind the tractor. Øyvind Overskeid of Adigo says that the new system will be ready for the market in 2012. The Research Council of Norway is financing development of the product.

Åse Dragland is the editor of GEMINI magazine, and has been a science journalist for 20 years. She was educated at the University in Tromsø and Trondheim, where she studied Nordic literature, pedagocics and social science.

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