Researchers at the Development Center X-ray Technology EZRT at Fraunhofer IIS are therefore working with project partners from the industrial sector on an environmentally friendly and sustainable alternative to herbicides. As part of the BlueBob project, initiated by the seed producer Strube D&S GmbH, the project partners are developing an autonomously navigating field robot that will use state-of-the-art sensor technology, intelligent algorithms and active weeding tools to remove weeds from within crop rows. In combination with the use of conventional weeding tools between crop rows, this will make it possible to attain comprehensive mechanical weed control – which can reduce the use of herbicides in sugar beet cultivation and even eliminate it in the long term.
The biggest challenge for the researchers was to teach BlueBob to precisely differentiate between sugar beets and weeds. To solve this conundrum, the Fraunhofer researchers are employing a combination of special cameras for optically capturing the plant parts in conjunction with an AI algorithm developed especially for this application. Using machine learning techniques, the robot thus decides within fractions of a second where within the row the weeding tool should do its work. The tool is then deployed with centimeter precision as it removes the weed and spares the crop.
The project is a collaboration between Fraunhofer IIS, Strube D&S GmbH and the French robot manufacturer Naïo Technologies, which developed the robot platform with its mechanical components.
“Fundamentally, we can employ deep learning methods to train the algorithm we’re using to work for any crop. This will make the technology useful in all weed scenarios with which farmers are faced,” explains deputy head of the Contactless Test and Measuring Systems department, Oliver Scholz.