Power Equipment Australasia

FEATURE Drones to take ‘war on weeds’ to the skies A CQUniversity research project has secured an Australian Government innovation grant to target weeds in broadacre crops, using artificial intelligence (AI)-driven drones equipped with mechatronics. This industry-partnered project, led by CQU’s drone, internet of things, mechatronics and agriculture specialists, is one of just 12 projects to share the $18 million funding in the new Emerging Aviation Technology Partnerships (EATP) program. Over the next two years, the national CQU research team will use light-weight drones to snap millions of ultra-high-resolution images of weeds in large farmlands in Central Queensland. Imagery data will be processed to create GPS location of weeds. The actual position of the detected weeds will be communicated to another internet of drones system, based on internet of things (IoT) technology. This second set of drones, integratedwith a robust mechatronics system, will spot-spray herbicides on detected weeds with precision. Dr JahanHassan, a specialist in consumer drone services and systems, will lead the CQUniversity project, in collaboration with technology partners OMRON Industrial Automation and Leica Biosystems. The project has multiple research themes: AI and image processing led by Dr Nahina Islam; internet of things (IoT) and internet of drones (IoD) led by Dr Biplob Ray; design and fabrication of mechatronics system led by Dr Abdul Mazid; and weed identification and herbicide efficiency evaluation by Associate Prof. Nanjappa Ashwath. All project leads are members of School of Engineering and Technology and School of Health Medical and Applied Sciences at CQUniversity. Central Queensland farmer Peter Foxwell of Foxwell Farming is providing access to his broadacre crops for the experimental trials. Dr Hassan said the project was made possible by CQUniversity’s diverse research expertise along with relevant industries and international collaboration. “This project relies on advanced drone systems, internet of things technology and artificial intelligence, a complex mechatronic spraying system, and a deep understanding of and connection to our agricultural sector,” Dr Hassan explained. “It’s exciting to be bringing together experts in diverse fields of research to tackle an issue of both national and international significance. The IoD will be able to detect the weed, locate its position and dispense only the required volume of herbicide,”DrRay said. “Funding of such a project is timely, as the costs of herbicides have escalated in recent years and the emphasis on reduced use of herbicides is escalating, both on economic and environmental grounds,” Associate Professor Nanjappa Ashwath said. “Image processing techniques along with artificial intelligence is being used to detect the weeds, locate its position and spray herbicide in a targeted manner,” Dr Islam said. Dr Mazid believes that IoT-augmented systems are a great step towards smart manufacturing and production for longer sustainability. “With this high-tech mix of partners, tools and expertise, we hope to deliver more efficient and sustainable future for agriculture in Australia,” A/Prof Ashwath said. Infrastructure, Transport, Regional Development and Local Government Minister Catherine King announced the successful grants in November 2022, and said the funding will ensure the aviation sector is at the forefront of innovation. CQUniversity secured $447,607 for its two-year project and is one of just three Australian universities participating in the program. The project has additionally received a total of $213,910 in-kind contributions from CQUniversity, industry partners, and the collaborator institute. The CQU project team also includes Dr Nurun Nabi, Professor Steven Moore, and Dr Stephen Xu. Dr Zaglul Shahadat of Rajshahi University of Engineering & Technology, Bangladesh is also contributing to this research. Dr Jahan Hassan, a specialist in consumer drone services and systems, will lead the CQUniversity project. MARCH - APRIL 2023 | POWER EQUIPMENT AUSTRALASIA | 13