16:09 PM

The world’s first ‘intelligent sprayer’

Equipment could save money, protect the environment

It's not often that a grower comes across a piece of new equipment that can give a full return on investment in one year and can reduce their farm’s impact on the environment.

But a device developed by researchers from the U.S. Department of Agriculture and The Ohio State University’s College of Food, Agricultural and Environmental Sciences is promising just that.

Their “intelligent sprayer” is the first automatic spraying system of its kind.

“Using conventional sprayers, growers simply turn on the sprayer at one end of the row of trees and stop spraying at the other end,” said Erdal Ozkan, professor of agricultural engineering in the Department of Food, Agricultural and Biological Engineering

“We are still using the same type of sprayers designed more than 60 years ago,” he said. “Applying a fixed rate of pesticides continuously regardless of variations in the target conditions is no longer a principle we can practice.”

A partnership with the USDA

The intelligent sprayer development arose from a collaboration between Ohio State researchers and the USDA-Agricultural Research Service. It was led by Heping Zhu, an Ohio State adjunct professor and USDA agricultural engineer.

Using high-speed sensors and computing technology, the team of researchers is bringing pesticide application into the digital age. Lasers detect the tree canopy around the sprayer, and an algorithm the researchers developed determines the optimum level of spray to be emitted by each of the sprayer’s 40 nozzles.

While the system can run automatically as the sprayer moves through the field, the operator can also manually control the system through a built-in touchscreen.

“Researchers around the world have tried to come up with a sprayer with similar functions to the one our team designed, but so far the intelligent sprayer developed here in Ohio is the only one of its kind working satisfactorily,” Ozkan said.

In testing, when compared to conventional sprayers, the intelligent sprayer reduced airborne spray drift by up to 87 percent, lowered spray loss on the ground by up to 93 percent and reduced pesticide use by more than 50 percent, the researchers said.

The intelligent sprayer showed the same level of pest control as a conventional sprayer, they said.

Good For Cost, and the Environment

“Preventing environmental pollution by pesticides of air or of water must be as important today as controlling pests, if not more important,” Ozkan said. “The technology employed in the intelligent sprayer is one example of achieving both: satisfactory pest control and the reduction of the risk associated with pollution of the environment with pesticides.”

By reducing the overall use of pesticides, nursery growers who have used the intelligent sprayer report chemical savings of around $230 per acre annually. Given these significant savings in chemical costs, a grower with a 100-acre field could recoup the cost of the intelligent sprayer within one year.

The team is also working to develop an intelligent sprayer kit that can be retrofitted onto almost any sprayer, which would reduce the additional expense of using this new technology.

The intelligent sprayer has received several recognitions, including a national award from the American Society of Agricultural and Biological Engineers and the 2018 Innovator of the Year Award from the College of Food, Agricultural and Environmental Sciences. Manufacturers also have expressed interest in this new technology and how it can be adapted into their own sprayer designs.