Jim Ostrowski is the VP of Engineering at Blue River Technology, which serves farmers with computer-vision based robotics that unlock greater yield potential.
There have been many technological advances in agriculture that have helped to increase farming productivity, including improved machinery, new genetic traits paired with specific herbicides, and precision tools incorporating GPS. Many areas, however, still rely on an inefficient use of hand labor and the broad use of herbicides that are showing severe limitations in the fight to control weeds. In this talk, I will describe our work on developing automated systems for commercial farming to perform operations, like thinning and weeding, that have traditionally been very manually intensive or have relied extensively on specially formulated herbicides paired with genetically modified crops. Our systems use a "See & Spray" approach, where we use computer vision to identify individual plants, paired with custom spray systems to deliver herbicide only to the plants that need to be removed and not on the crops to be harvested. We utilize modern tools from machine learning, such as convolutional neural nets, in order to identify in real time individual plants versus weeds in order to take appropriate action. I will review some of the problems we have faced in developing these systems, as well as identify some of the challenges that still lie ahead in this exciting application of robotics to agriculture.
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