|USDA engineering technician Adam Clark drives the intelligent sprayer down a row of Japanese maples at Hans Nelson and Son Nursery Inc. in Boring, Ore. The machine detects where plant material is located and only sprays solution where it is needed.|
From where we sit, the intelligent sprayer being researched by the USDA Agricultural Research Service and several partners (Oregon State Univeristy, Ohio State University, the University of Tennessee and several commercial growers) is making excellent progress. Once fully developed, the machine will save on chemical use and prevent excess chemical drift by detecting where plants are positioned and spraying chemicals only where they are needed. If it is a short plant, only the lower nozzles will activate. If it’s tall, the upper ones will.
The demo version of the machine was pictured (PDF) in our November 2012 issue. Now, something closer to a production version of the machine has been built; it attaches to the back of a John Deere tractor at three points. According to lead researcher Dr. Hepping Zhu of USDA-ARS, the demo used ultrasonic sensors. This new version of the machine (pictured above) uses laser sensors, which are far more accurate. The new version of the machine will even take foliage density into account, and it will adjust the spray accordingly! It is being tested at Hans Nelson and Sons Nursery Inc. in Boring, Ore. (pictured), as well as J. Frank Schmidt & Son Inc., also in Boring. Watch for a possible feature in Digger in the coming months.