Pooled investment fund Strategic Elements’ (ASX: SOR) subsidiary Stealth Technologies has unveiled the potential of its automation and robotics technology for the world’s multi-billion-dollar agriculture sector.
Stealth has worked with the Australian Herbicide Resistance Initiative (AHRI) and the University of Western Australia’s School of Agriculture and Environment to achieve early-stage validation of the technology.
With this early-stage validation at hand, Stealth will undertake further optimisation and engineering work with a view to expanding its technology for demonstration across multiple end-user reference sites.
As part of this, Stealth has already filed a patent for its weed detection device, which includes the arrangement of sensors on a moving vehicle platform, algorithms, weed detection methods, and software to process the crop data from a moving vehicle.
Offering a different approach
According to Strategic, current weed detection technology uses RGB cameras and different forms of imaging to distinguish weeds from crops by colour.
The company noted this can have “serious limitations” in broadacre cropping where weeds are often the same colour as crops.
Stealth’s technology takes a different approach by using sophisticated sensing, mapping and localisation technology.
This is already built and used in Stealth’s autonomous security vehicle under an existing collaboration with US Fortune 100 company Honeywell.
In developing this technology for the agriculture sector, Stealth collaborated with the UWA and AHRI in collecting logistics and in-field scoping data from a large-scale broadacre farm.
The rationale was to enable detection of weeds protruding above the canopy of a barley crop.
A weed detection prototype hardware was developed and installed on a combine harvester during harvest.
The next step was to create algorithms which were then tested and validated by comparing the weed locations detected by the technology with visually confirmed locations.
Strategic noted that on a limited data set the technology detected 100% of weeds with a height threshold 20cm above the crop canopy.
“Significantly, the technology was able to detect weeds from the barley crop notwithstanding the fact that both were brown in colour and barely distinguishable to the human eye.”
The company added that available technologies using computer vision solutions would be unable to replicate these results.
With its technology, Stealth hopes to mitigate the need for excessive chemical use and reduce production loss.
The company estimates this costs the Australian cropping sector about $3.3 billion annually.
In the US, the annual cost of weeds is estimated at US$34.5 billion.
Traditional farming practices to destroy weeds include mass universal application of herbicides, but this becomes a challenge with many weeds becoming resistant to the treatment.
As a result, more farmers are required to use targeted herbicides which is a greater expense and results in a new generation of herbicide-resistant weeds.
Strategic expects this technology can be deployed globally where large-scale crop farming is carried out.
Combined with agronomic techniques, the precision weed detection technology could be used to “dramatically decrease herbicide input costs to farming”, while also maximising yields – making farming more efficient and profitable.