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12. January 2022

Autonomous hoeing thanks to artificial intelligence

Steketee IC-Weeder now with single plant recognition

Hoeing technology becomes even more effective if the machine itself is able to distinguish between crop plants and weeds and works in a targeted manner as a result. This is where artificial intelligence (AI) comes into play. LEMKEN and Steketee are now introducing the automatic intra-row hoeing machine IC-Weeder in an AI-enhanced version which reliably detects crop plants. This machine is therefore able to create clean fields even in sown crops with extensive weed infestation within rows.

LEMEKN Steketee IC Weeder AI

Plant recognition with Deep Learning
To achieve the goal of autonomous plant recognition, the software integrated into the IC-Weeder AI first needed to learn certain features of crop plants and then combine them to produce complex contexts in a second step. This is possible thanks to an algorithm based on the principle of “deep learning”. For this particular machine, sugar beet plants were manually marked up at various stages of development. The algorithm then used this data to autonomously create a method for identifying sugar beet plants based on their colour profile, texture, shape, size and leaf position. This allows the hoeing machine to work even in challenging conditions that are too complex for conventional image recognition systems, as the system is able to differentiate clearly between crop plants and weeds.

Precise guidance with camera recognition
In the Steketee IC-Weeder, the cameras for the individual rows are well protected and located inside a casing to ensure their reliable function without being affected by environmental light conditions. During a pass with the IC-Weeder AI, the cameras transmit 30 images per second to the on-board computer, producing a plant recognition ratio in excess of 95%. The sickle-shaped, pneumatically controlled knives move into the rows and hoe as close as two centimetres from each plant. A hydraulic parallel sliding frame ensures precise and reliable machine control in the crop.

With the Steketee IC-Weeder AI, LEMKEN aims to make hoeing even more precise and effortless. At the same time, this smart tillage implement prepares the path towards fully automated driving systems.

The IC-Weeder AI will be available from 2022, initially for sugar beets in a working width of 3 metres.