AI Case Study
Blue River Technology offers deep learning technology which is aspiring to reduce herbicide usage by offering a more precise and targeted spray application
Blue River Technology, acquired by John Deere, demonstrated the See & Spray weeding machine in the United States cotton belt during 2017 and will extend testing in 2018, as it is still preparing for a commercial launch. Their smart sprayer technology leverages deep learning algorithms to distinguish between plants and weeds with better accuracy and then uses custom nozzle designs providing spray accuracy.
According to the Resource magazine, "See & Spray is the next generation of Blue River’s weed-control technology. It is a 9 to 18m (30to60ft) wide towed implement comprising a customized 18 cm × 18 cm (7 in. × 7 in.) toolbar that supports one spray unit per crop row. This smart sprayer uses deep learning algorithms to identify a greater variety of plants and weeds with better accuracy, it uses custom nozzle designs that provide spray accuracy down to 2.5 cm (1 in.), and the improved software allows faster and more agile operation.
See & Spray is based on some of the same technology used in self-driving cars to allow the sprayer to see all the plants in a field, distinguish crop plants from weeds, and apply a targeted dose of herbicide only on the weeds. With smart spraying, farmers can introduce new herbicides into their management practices to control herbicide-resistant weeds while reducing herbicide use by up to 90%. Achieving sub-inch accuracy while moving through the field at 6 to 13 kph (4 to 8 mph) required close coordination between mechanical, software, and machine learning engineers.
In addition to the application reduction, it also minimizes off-target drift. The volume per acre is reduced, and larger droplet sizes can be used. See & Spray can help prevent herbicide resistance with rotating herbicide modes of action, applying appropriate rates for maximum efficacy and mapping weeds by species and size."
According to the AgProfessional journal, the company intends to expand its testing in 2018. As James Hawkins, a Sales Manager of Blue River explains, "'the previous prototype was an eight-row machine with a maximum speed of 4 mph. This year, the Series 1 test machines will be 12-row machines and have an operating speed of 6 mph'. Starting in Texas and spanning to Georgia and through the Mississippi Delta, Blue River will partner with John Deere dealers to identify local farmers as test cooperators for in-field demos. The initial focus will be in cotton, and then, it will transition to include soybeans. Future tests will expand to peanuts, potatoes and corn. Although a commercial launch hasn’t been announced, Hawkins says the Blue River team is seeking feedback and interest from farmers and ag service providers."
Blue River Technology claims that See & Spray has shown it can reduce herbicide usage by 90% by moving from a broadcast spraying methodology, to a highly precise and targeted spray application.
"With deep learning, the company was able to design a neural network that learns a million parameters to determine which are best for distinguishing crops from weeds. They do this by training the neural net with hundreds of thousands of examples from different farmers’ fields."