Combining cameras, computers and AI software fitted to a standard crop sprayer, the Rumex system spots weeds as the sprayer moves across the field. On-board computers analyse the camera feeds and the sprayer applies a measured, targeted dose of chemicals to every weed spotted.
Developed by Lanark-based company Taylor Technologies, the GPS position of each treated weed is recorded and mapped, enabling detailed data to be retained for analysis. All this takes place in real-time, with no input required from an operator.
The idea for the system came about in 2017, whilst Colin was talking with a neighbouring dairy farmer who reckoned that herbicides do kill weeds but a blanket treatment also stunts the grass.
At that time, computer-vision and artificial intelligence, the technologies at the heart of the system, were becoming more widespread. “I saw that we could take the technology that is notably used for facial recognition and self-driving cars, and re-purpose it to spot weeds,” says Colin.
“Combining this with electronic control of a sprayer would mean that we could automatically spot-spray weeds, only activating the sprayer when the weeds are there. The result is that now, the sprayer is off for the majority of time that it goes across the field. This is the complete opposite of how fields are normally sprayed and spot-spraying results in massive reductions of quantities of chemicals used.”
Development on the system started in 2018 whilst Colin was undertaking his agricultural technology MSc research project while attending the Royal Agricultural University. He continues to test and refine the system in collaboration with software developers and is now ready to take it to the next level and hopes to find a commercial party with whom to work.
“We see real demand for the system. It saves money and benefits the farmers who use it. What we are doing for grassland weeds can be replicated for other crops and weeds. Within agriculture, there are many opportunities for vision-based automation of machinery.
“We have a number of farmers that we’ll do contract spot-spraying for this year. As well as helping reduce their weed burdens, this will provide the opportunity to test the system over a much larger area. We’re constantly improving the technology. This testing will help to further improve the accuracy and efficiency of the system.”