Automatic analysis of crop protection product sprays
We would prefer to reduce the use of plant protection products as much as possible. Not only are those agents often pricey, consumers are also sensitive to the use of artificial agents on their food. However, crop protection products are very useful because they ensure healthy fruit without defects or pests. Fruit and vegetable growers are therefore constantly looking for the right balance where we spray just enough plant protection products to be effective. A first step towards achieving that goal is, of course, measuring the quality of spraying. We developed a mobile tool that allows us to test this in the orchard or in the field so that adjustments can be made quickly, without having to call in an external lab.
Traditionally, the quality of the spray was tested with water-sensitive paper. These papers were hung between crops or used separately in a test. They could then be compared with some samples for a very rough estimate, or sent to a lab for in-depth analysis. Important here is that there is a good distribution of droplets, no large surfaces without droplets, adequate percentage coverage, etc. However, the existing method makes it inaccurate or very cumbersome to assess this and quickly adjust the spraying process. A more accurate, robust and automated method is therefore highly desirable in the industry.
Mobile measuring instrument
Together with the company AAMS, we developed a prototype of a measuring device that can assess the quality of spraying. The device is mobile and can be taken to the place of application of the crop protection products. This means that an analysis can be made almost immediately and the settings of the sprayer can be adjusted while spraying. Using an external lab is no longer necessary. The device has a multifunctional design, it can work with an adapter for the water-sensitive papers, so they can be inserted into the device and immediately assessed using the vision system. But this intermediate step can also be avoided altogether with another adapter, by sliding leaves from the plants directly into it and analysing those. The result of the measurement is a lot more comprehensive than classical methods and offers more insight into average coverage, homogeneity of the droplets, surfaces without droplets, etc. This last feature of the device makes it unique in this technical field. A short video shows how the device works:
The prototype was developed in collaboration with AAMS. The device you see in the video above is the device as AAMS is going to offer it commercially and for which they have also already received a series of orders after presenting it at an international scientific event on plant protection products.
However, the development of the technology is not standing still, for instance, a 3D version is already in the pipeline, where the coverage of fruits such as grapes can be analysed. This will allow us to continue working towards more efficient and healthier agriculture.