Thursday, November 08, 2012

Are you smarter than a robot?

By Curt Harler

Pretty soon a robot will replace your first assistant’s insights and your local chemical salesperson’s advice on weeds. Make that a fleet of robots!

Angela Ribeiro and Pablo Gonzalez-de-Santos, at the Center for Automation and Robotics (CSIC-UPM) spoke about the promising future for robot fleets used for weed control during the International Annual Meetings of the American Society of Agronomy (ASA), Crop Science Society of America (CSSA), and Soil Science Society of America (SSSA). The meetings was held in Cincinnati on Oct. 21-24.

Frits K. Van Evert and a team from the Wageningen University and Research Centre in the Netherlands will talk about real-time detection and control of weeds. Closer to home, David Hearn of Towson University, near Baltimore, is working on the use of computational shape analysis and identification keys to identify plants from digital images.David Jacobs, University of Maryland, teamed with researchers from Columbia University and the Smithsonian Institution towards similar ends with a free app called Leafsnap. In its first iteration, it IDs trees but other plants – including pesky weeds — should follow quickly.

While some of the initial robot-based weed identification and control work is being done in field crops, the research should port nicely to turfgrass. The symposium will feature engineers and biologists who are working in the cutting edge field of sensor development and automation for real-time plant identification. The technology boom is revolutionizing management aspects of both crop and non-crop systems, including advanced target recognition and application systems.

Superintendents will soon have a plant identification monitor sitting next to their soil moisture and nutrient monitors in their utility vehicle. Both on golf courses and in natural areas, managers and conservationists will be able to identify invasive and other important plant species using identification technology that is also equipped with communication and environmental monitoring devices.

Now, if only we can get those robots to bring donuts for the rest of the grounds staff, we just might be good with that!

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