WeLASER: Technical alternative in weed management
Instead of using chemical products, in the future, the growth center of weeds is to be lethally damaged through laser radiation. The partners in the EU project WeLASER want to create the basis for this vision. The project brings together research institutions, companies, and non-governmental organizations (NGOs) from the agricultural sector in eight EU countries, including the Laser Zentrum Hannover e.V. (LZH). Over the next three years, the partners want to test a laser system’s effectiveness on selected crops
Against the backdrop of a growing world population and the need to reduce pesticides and fertilizers, WeLASER is striving for more sustainable weed management. Conventional mechanical methods can degrade soil properties and harm beneficial soil organisms. Besides, they achieve unsatisfactory results in-row weed control.
With laser, AI, and IOT against weeds
Therefore, the WeLASER solution focuses on non-chemical weed control. The idea behind it is to damage the weed’s growth center with high energy doses from a high-power laser beam source. To this end, the LZH scientists are developing an image processing system that uses artificial intelligence (AI) to distinguish crops from weeds. They are also training this system to recognize the position of weed meristems. The target coordinates are used at the LZH to control a robust, multi-row scanner system so that the laser beam can be aimed at the growth center.
For use in the field, the systems will be installed on an autonomous vehicle. They will then be coordinated via a smart controller that uses the Internet of Things (IOT) and cloud computing techniques to manage and deploy agricultural data.
Prototype by 2023
The LZH also develops concepts for ensuring laser safety for everyone involved, such as farmers and machine operators. The partners want to test the prototype on sugar beet, corn, and winter cereal crops. The prototype should be available at the end of the project, i.e., in 2023, and then be further developed for commercialization.
The WeLASER project’s technology offers a clean solution to the weed problem and significantly reduces the chemical load on the environment.
WeLASER is a European innovation project funded under the Horizon 2020 program. It is coordinated by the Spanish Consejo Superior de Investigaciones Científicas (CSIC). Other participants are: Futonics LASER (Germany), Laser Zentrum Hannover e.V. (Germany), the Department of Plant and Environmental Sciences of the University of Copenhagen (Denmark), AGREENCULTURE SaS (AGC, France), Coordinadora de Organizaciones de Agricultores y Ganaderos (COAG, eng.: Coordinator of Farmers and Livestock Organizations, Spain), the Faculty of Agricultural Sciences of the University of Bologna (Italy), Instytut Ekologii Terenów Uprzemysłowionych (IETU, Institute of Ecology of Industrial Areas, Poland), the Faculty of Agricultural Economics of Ghent University (Belgium), and Van den Borne Projecten BV (VDBP, Netherlands).
With the help of European funding, a large group of stakeholders and interest groups in the WeLASER research project aim to increase agricultural productivity while making the environment more sustainable and improving animal and human health.