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Dal AC student-prof team develop disease-detecting robot for farmers

Professor Young Ki Chang and his student Qilin Yu are testing a robot camera to detect weeds and plant diseases on farms.
Professor Young Ki Chang and his student Qilin Yu are testing a robot camera to detect weeds and plant diseases on farms. - Fram Dinshaw
BIBLE HILL, N.S. —

Farmers will reap the benefits with the development of a new weed-detecting robot
Chinese exchange student Qilin Yu, who is attending Dal AC, and professor Young Ki Chang designed the mobile imaging system as a four-wheeled, remote-controlled field robot. Their prototype is being tested on strawberry and potato fields, as well as vineyards, where it will detect weeds and plant disease.
“This machine has a camera and a FPGA (field programmable gate array semiconductor) board,” said Yu, 20. “I focus on the realization of the camera and imagery detection. I use the FPGA and SD card to set up equipment that can capture imagery of the group of crops and weeds.”
Her job is fine-tuning the machine, learning algorithms used by the system to analyze the images and distinguish a weed from a vegetable or fruit. The system can process information in milliseconds, capturing up to eight megapixels of data and displaying real-time video at high resolution.
“We collected tons of different images and videos, at least 10,000,” said Chang.
Chang and Yu’s project is designed to offer an affordable solution to small and mid-sized farmers who cannot afford up to $20,000 for an advanced robotic system. 
The cameras used by Yu range from $120 for a simple colour camera to $400 for a 3D imaging system. 
The apparatus consists of one camera chip, SD card and the FPGA semiconductor. The camera equipment will be mounted atop a pole on the wheeled buggy for field tests.
“Technology is constantly developing for the agriculture sector but the problem is that most solutions are expensive and out of reach of the smaller farm,” said Chang in an earlier release. “Our solution is inexpensive yet capable of analyzing as much as 100 GB worth of complex images.”
Once fully operational, Yu and Chang’s camera robot system will help farmers spray herbicides only where they are needed, rather than on an entire field. Not only will this save money, it will benefit the environment with less chemicals in the soil.
“If the leaves have white spots, that means it has a disease,” Yu said. 
She studies at the Ocean University of China in Qingdao and is attending Dal AC on a three-month exchange. She is one of more than 1,200 international students attending Canadian universities.
Students are helping to solve innovation challenges like affordable farming technology under the Mitacs Globalink internship program. Mitacs is recruiting students at a time when Canada is trying to establish itself as a global innovation hub.
“I am a physics student, but I was able to choose an engineering project based on my interest,” said Yu. “Everyone is very kind and friendly here and I’m receiving excellent academic guidance.”

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