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Serving: KS

Robots could stop pest infestations in their tracks

courtesy of K-State Research and Extension small, robotic vehicle
ROBOT PEST CONTROL: Kansas State University researchers are using small, robotic vehicles like this one to identify and treat pests in farm fields. The next step is infusing artificial intelligence into these machines before commercial application.
K-State researcher says robotic vehicles can benefit farmers in the field.

Autonomous pest control vehicles could become a valuable asset to farmers in the future as they create an opportunity for new intelligence and a way to manage pests in crop fields.

Ajay Sharda, Kansas State University precision agricultural engineer, says that small, robotic vehicles could identify sites of infestation, decide if they are beyond a critical level and whether they should be sprayed.

Currently, this technology is not ready for farmers, he says. “The component that is missing at this point is, how do we infuse artificial intelligence to these machines?”

Specifically what’s missing, according to Sharda, is human eyes, intelligence, feelers, and knowledge — all important aspects if a farmer is considering placing many vehicles in the same field.

“I think these are technological innovations that need to be developed, so we can present [this option] to our farming community,” Sharda says.

“When we are running one big sprayer, it’s going to cover the entire field,” he adds. But, “in the same 100 acres, if I’m running 20 small autonomous machines, I have to aggregate all that data on the fly to understand how I covered the entire field, and how much pesticide I applied.”

Sharda says when observing crops, he looks from the top to the bottom, even though most crop infestations start from the middle or bottom. Autonomous vehicles have the ability to view the crop from the bottom to middle section.

“By spraying inside [the canopy], I have a microclimate that has lesser wind effect … and is a little bit cooler and damp,” Sharda says.

The vehicles can also spray much closer to the crop, allowing it to be more site-specific on the plant.

“If I am spraying site-specific[ally], I’m saving a lot of chemical, which means costs are down,” and the potential for those chemicals to reach nearby water bodies also is decreased, Sharda says.

He says autonomous vehicles will have the ability to catch an infestation at the right time and be able to treat it before it damages a portion of the field.

“There are a lot of benefits from the standpoint of the environment and saving dollars,” Sharda says.

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