When it comes to machine vision, industrial automation is by far the most common application. Still, it’s important to remember that agriculture has benefited from advances in technology since the invention of the plow. With every change in irrigation and cultivation techniques, it becomes possible to raise healthier crops with larger, more nourishing yields. Now, machine vision is being applied to agriculture in increasingly effective and novel ways.
A New Era of Machine Vision in Agriculture Gets its Start
The main barrier to implementing machine vision in agriculture was the need to ruggedize the key systems. To adapt machine vision technologies to rough outdoor environments, engineers needed to develop hardware and software that would maintain calibration during heavy duty use. Likewise, it was necessary to design sensor systems that would collect the information most valuable to agriculture professionals.
With those challenges met, machine vision has a great future ahead of it in agriculture.
Some exciting innovations include:
Automation of Fundamental Processes
As in industrial environments, one of the most crucial benefits of machine vision in agriculture is its capacity to automate time-consuming, labor-intensive tasks. With further refinement of sensor systems and actuators, machine vision systems will be well-equipped to manage fruit picking, crop control, harvesting, and a range of other tasks. Human oversight would be used mainly in a supervisory capacity to help improve the systems and their results.
X-Ray Detection for Weeding Systems
Each crop has its own needs: The processes and business environment around its cultivation must reflect nature’s imperatives. For example, studies have shown that weed control accounts for a relatively high percentage of the overhead costs of tomato production in some areas of California. An automated weeding system developed by researchers at UC Davis improved conditions by using X-rays to detect and eliminate weeds growing near tomato stems.
Not all machine vision applications in agriculture take place “out in the field.” The industry has a wealth of lessons to apply from other industries. With only minor adjustments, 2D machine vision systems that are already in use can be modified to ensure repeatable results in harvesting. Fill level inspections, part measurement, and automated counting systems are all well within the capacity of today’s systems, even when the individual products are irregular.
Heavy Agricultural Equipment
Machine vision can enhance existing agricultural equipment, such as harvesters, and can be used to broadly automate some heavy machinery. The adoption of vision technology is helping to create a completely new generation of agricultural equipment, such as lettuce thinners. These large vehicles are able to distinguish between healthy lettuce seedlings and invasive plants and apply the appropriate chemical or manual countermeasure to improve seedling viability.
No article on the use of vision technologies in agriculture would be complete without a mention of unmanned aerial vehicles. Thanks to the precision available in modern vision systems, drones can be used to monitor macro-level crop conditions. This gives professionals the opportunity to take action quickly against unexpected outbreaks of disease, pests, or adverse environmental conditions.