Starting the flexible and intelligent automation of sustainable agriculture—including weed control

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Kevin Bregler explains: “AMU-Bot is not yet able to classify all plants; however, it can recognize crops such as trees and shrubs in the rows of the tree nursery cultivations. Moreover, the distances between the individual crops are calculated. Using this information, the weeds can then be reliably removed. The robot uses these data to navigate along the rows while the manipulator removes any weeds.”

Even weeds in the spaces between the plants or trees can be reliably killed off. To that end, the manipulator moves into the gaps between the crops. The weeds do not need to be collected and are left on the ground to dry out. Thanks to its caterpillar drive, the self-driving weed killer moves along the ground with ease and is extremely stable. Even holes in the ground created when saplings are removed do not pose a problem for AMU-Bot. The AMU-Bot platform is economical, robust, easy to operate and highly efficient. Rotary harrows, for example, have long since proven successful in agriculture. They are often used to break up the soil prior to sowing crops. Fraunhofer expert Bregler says: “Removing weeds is a very relevant topic and one that is rather complex. There are various approaches that can be taken: grubbing, cutting, hoeing, flaming or treating the weeds with herbicides. However, herbicides are no longer popular, especially in ecological agriculture and for tree nurseries or orchards. Our method completely avoids the use of chemicals.”

Robust, reliable and cost-effective

The project managers made a conscious decision to develop a seemingly simple solution. “A system that classifies the different individual plants requires high-resolution cameras, AI-supported image recognition algorithms and plant profiles stored in a database. These systems are far more complex and expensive. Not only that, but they cannot readily switch to working in new contexts,” explains Bregler. In comparison, the AMU-Bot platform relies on the sophisticated interplay of three fully developed modules: caterpillar vehicle, navigator system and manipulator. AMU-Bot is also the result of an efficient partnership. Bosch is responsible for the navigation and sensor system, while KommTek developed the caterpillar drive. Fraunhofer IPA engineered the height-adjustable manipulator, including rotary harrows, and was responsible for overall coordination.

The project was supported by the German Federal Ministry of Food and Agriculture (BMEL) and the German Federal Office of Agriculture and Food (BLE) was the project sponsor. The Fraunhofer experts are already planning the next step. Together with seven other Fraunhofer Institutes, IPA expert Kevin Bregler and the project team are working on a new, high-performance ecosystem called COGNAC (Cognitive Agriculture). Digital services and data, which also include interactions between biospheres and production, are networked to form this ecosystem. In addition, COGNAC integrates intelligent sensors and robotics. The aim is to create flexible and intelligent automation of sustainable agriculture—including weed control.

 

Original Article: Mobile weed killer for tree nurseries

More from: Fraunhofer Society 

 

 



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