Controlling Weeds with Drones

Controlling Weeds with Drones | UAV spraying weeds

Less weeds, more drones

Did you ever dream of a time where farmers were controlling weeds with drones? Wake up, you're not dreaming, it's already here! Weed management is something every farmer deals with (and no, not cannabis ...although drones are used on those farms, too). Weeds don't discriminate - and as long as there is farming, there will be weeds to deal with. But what if you could control weeds in a new way? Something revolutionary!  Well keep reading because that's what this is all about...

Agriculture Spraying Drones have been helping farmers for years. They're easy to use, affordable and super accurate thanks to their GPS guidance. Farmers or service-based-applicators use a Ground Station App to plot their spray mission... most often, using a Google Maps (or similar) overlay. The pilot marks the corners of a field, inputs spray parameters and the app determines the best way to spray that area. What happens next? Magic! A few taps on the screen, the drone launches, sprays the area, lands and shuts itself off. Maybe you could even take a seat while it was working!

What you just read is a good explanation of a traditional spraying job by drone. Spraying drones can also navigate areas that are tough (or damaging) to get to by ground methods... think hillsides or even waterways. Or perhaps you don't have a traditional crop duster in your area? But controlling weeds with a drone is even more awesome than that! How? Speaking of sitting down, you better for this next part, we're gonna get technical.

Weed Identification & Mapping

Just think about it for a moment... what if you could quickly and accurately detect weeds in a field and then map out exactly where those weeds are? Even better, what if you could identify resistant weeds that escaped a previous treatment? This is known as Precision Agriculture , and all of this is possible today... taking the world, and weeds by storm! In order to accomplish this, you need a drone equipped with a multispectral camera and a software to process the data. OK, do you remember how I said we were going to get technical? Here we go...

According to the findings from John Nowatzki, a scientist with North Dakota State University

[Drones] equipped with cameras and other sensor technologies have successfully measured weed density and have been used to identify and map multiple weed species with greater than 90 percent accuracy. They also have been used to detect differences in canopy temperatures between glyphosate-susceptible and glyphosate-resistant weed species – data used to identify resistant weeds with an accuracy level of more than 95 percent.

“It’s easy to imagine early response programs to spot-treat potentially resistant weeds that escaped a previous treatment,” says Muthu Bagavathiannan, a Weed Scientist with Texas A&M University. “Doing so could greatly improve weed control and minimize weed seed-bank replenishment, while reducing the amount of herbicides used.”

Identifying and mapping not only where the weeds are, but how dense and their level of resistance is like having the rival's entire playbook ...did anyone just have a flashback to playing battle-games on the computer? Oh I digress. Here's something else for you to ponder....

What's Next?

Using drones to spray weeds | drones killing invasive aquatic species
Image Courtesy of Andrew Howell, North Carolina State University

The tech isn't slowing down anytime soon, especially with our techs at the controls! We're already developing a way to import the maps from those sensors making it that much easier to plan your spray jobs. But it gets better!

What we're seeing next is the drone, sensor and planning all working as one fully-automatic solution! That would look like the spraying drone flying the field, sensor looking ahead, identifying and spraying all weeds on-the-go. And yes, we're already planning that :) There are many moving parts to make that a reality. First is expanded machine learning with massive databases and on-board lightening-fast processors. Second, we'll likely need global 5G coverage to access that database. But is it possible, absolutely! Should you wait until then to use the existing awesome technology, um, no.

Editor’s Note: Information for this story was provided by the Weed Science Society of America. More information can be found at

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