Pooled development fund Strategic Elements’ (ASX: SOR) subsidiary Stealth Technologies has announced new developments in its automation and robotics technology in relation to weed detection for the agricultural sector.
Stealth announced early-stage validation of the technology in March following collaborative work with the Australian Herbicide Resistance Initiative and the University of Western Australia (UWA) School of Agriculture and Environment.
In an announcement today, Stealth reports sensor hardware has been dramatically reduced in size and weight to be installed on farming equipment including boom sprayers, utes or potentially drones, in addition to the header of a combine harvester.
Proprietary software and algorithms have been upgraded to enable weeds to be detected in crops other than wheat – for example, barley.
Improvements have also been made to system design to allow the assembly of composite point cloud to enable “superior processing and deliver higher weed detection accuracy”, Stealth said.
Further testing at WA farms next month
Further testing and optimisation of these hardware and software upgrades will be conducted in August at two WA farms.
The first farm is the UWA farm research facility in Pingelly, two hours southeast of Perth, targeting one wheat paddock.
The second farm is in Gillingarra about two hours north of Perth with testing to target two separate paddocks, one with wheat and the other with a different type of crop such as barley.
Results of the testing is anticipated in September. If successful, aspects of the upgraded technology will be included in an expanded trial in November in which 10 farms will utilise the Stealth technology solution during the harvesting season.
Weed detection technology
According to Strategic Elements, available weed detection technologies typically use RGB cameras and different forms of imaging to distinguish weeds and crops via colour.
However, this can have serious limitations in broadacre cropping, where weeds are often the same colour as crops.
Stealth’s approach involves leveraging the sophisticated sensor, mapping and localisation technology it has already built and used in its autonomous security vehicle collaboration with US tech giant Honeywell.
The spread of weeds is a significant issue for crop yields globally with production losses estimated in the tens of billions and weeds becoming increasingly resistant to herbicides.
According to a 2018 research report, the estimated cost of weeds in Australian cropping systems is $3.3 billion annually. In the United States, this cost is estimated at US$34.5 billion (A$46.7 billion).
Stealth aims to deploy its technology to large-scale crop farms around the world including wheat, barley, as well as corn and canola.
It believes the combination of this technology and agronomic techniques can leverage weed location knowledge to dramatically decrease herbicide input costs to farming and maximise crop yields – making farming more efficient and profitable for farmers while also being more environmentally friendly.