Study on robotic weed control wins outstanding paper award

uc davis biological agricultural engineering robotic weed control

A 2019 paper from the UC Davis Biological and Agricultural Engineering Department recently received the European Society of Agricultural Engineers (EurAgEng) Outstanding Paper Award. The award is given every other year by the Institution of Agricultural Engineers (IAgrE) to two to three standout papers published in the Biosystems Engineering journal.

The paper, “Crop signaling: A novel crop recognition technique for robotic weed control,” was published in the November 2019 edition of Biosystems Engineering. The paper outlines a new technique to train robots for weeding.

Most weed control is done by hand, which means it can be an expensive, time-consuming, and difficult process for specialty crop producers and workers. It’s also been a challenge to automate, as weeds can come in all different shapes and sizes and are often entangled with the crop foliage, making it difficult for a robot to reliably detect in real time. The team pioneered a new concept to solve this problem called “crop signaling,” or ways to make crop plants readable by machines and distinguishable from weeds.

uc davis engineering postdoc rekha raja automated weed control
BAE postdoctoral scholar Rekha Raja, who led the study.

The paper outlined four different techniques to mark crops for automated weed control—systemic markers, fluorescent proteins, plant labels and topical markers. The team conducted indoor experiments for each method and field tests with plant labels and topical markers, finding that the robot was able to remove weeds quickly, effectively and reliably under field conditions with high weed density. They plan to continue this research toward eventual commercialization.

The paper comes from researchers in distinguished professor David Slaughter’s group. Led by postdoctoral scholar Rekha Raja, the paper was a collaboration between her, Slaughter, her labmates—biological systems engineering Ph.D. students Vivian Vuong and Thuy Nguyen—Steven Fennimore from the Department of Plant Sciences, Neelima Sinha from the Plant Biology Graduate Group, Laura Tourte and Richard Smith from the UC Agricultural and Natural Resources and Mark Siemens from the University of Arizona.

The winning papers receive €300 from IAgrE and would have received recognition at this year’s AgEng2020, the annual meeting of EurAgEng, in Portugal this July.

Read the paper to learn more.