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A "Smart Sprayer" for Site-Specific Weed Management

Lei Tian
Assistant Professor, Dept. of Agricultural Engineering
(217) 333-7534; lei-tian@illinois.edu
Lei Tian

Research has shown that weed variations in weed populations do exist. If herbicide could be applied in a spatially varying manner based on weed population, less herbicide would be needed. Because of the potential benefit of selective spraying, much work has been done to develop a variable selective sprayer.

The primary challenges of this work are devising methods to sense weeds and to discriminate between weeds and crop plants, crop residue, and soil. Most of the research effort has been directed in these areas. When the presence of weeds is correctly detected, another challenge involves making the decision of whether to spray and how much herbicide should be sprayed. After these decisions are made, another challenge is to place the proper amount of chemical at the proper location.

The smart sprayer concept

Figure 1. The smart sprayer concept.

Because of the potential benefits of a selective sprayer, research has been initiated in the Department of Agricultural Engineering at the University of Illinois. Development of the "smart sprayer" was started in the spring of 1997 and is sponsored by the Illinois Council on Food and Agricultural Research (C-FAR). A prototype smart sprayer was built in 1997, and preliminary testing and evaluations have been conducted. Test results of the first prototype show promise.

Prototype 1 (1997)

Figure 2. Prototype 1 (1997)

To improve the performance, Department of Agricultural Engineering researchers have built a new version of the smart sprayer: Prototype II. With Prototype II, the real-time machine-vision weed-sensing system is able to estimate weed size and population as functions of position in the field. The variable-rate nozzle is controlled to change the local herbicide application rate on the go.

Our goal is for the new smart sprayer to be a system capable of applying herbicides only to areas of weed infestation, resulting in reduced usage of herbicides at an equal or higher level of weed control as is achieved with conventional sprayers.

Prototype II (1998)
Figure 3. Prototype II (1998)

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