What it does
Broad-spectrum spraying causes unnecessary amounts of herbicide to enter the environment when treating weeds, causing herbicide resistance over time. Image sensing technologies and different herbicides, Trax is able to locate and map weeds in selected fields.
This project was initiated by a desire to design an impactful product that delivers benefits to farmers while exploring the relationship we have with autonomous devices and their data. Early detection of weeds and proper treatment through the correct chemical for the identified weed promotes sustainable practice and looks at a future where treating weeds with minimal to no chemicals is a reality. An investigation into the form of existing agricultural devices led me to explore what the future of these devices look like with sustainability in manufacture and function being at the forefront of the design challenge.
How it works
Trax has a home station which it returns to at the end of each day, induction charging and refilling the water container. It does not spray in the same paddock as livestock, at night or when it rains. Sprayers located on the side panels allow for fenceline spraying, suppressing weeds spreading from neighbouring areas. A torsion bar suspension chassis that withstand the impacts of daily life on the farm. Made from recycled HDPE which has good chemical resistance, Trax is manufactured to allow parts to be replaced with ease. A visor protects the forward-facing cameras which assist Trax in navigating the paddock. The water container is kept separate from the chemicals and only mix at the nozzle, minimising chemical waste common when hand-spraying. The linear arm allows the nozzle to position to the centre of the weed, dosing only as required and directly to the source with three different herbicides being housed.
Driven by the desire to design for New Zealand's largest primary industry and frustrated with the weeds growing in the field outside, I set out to explore ways that they can be eradicated sustainably. Interviews, farm visits and surveys allowed me to gain key insights around this problem, highlighting that the attitudes currently expressed by farmers was a distrust in non-chemical based solutions to herbicide. With this in mind, I set out to generate a design with high levels of usability and empathy for the busy farmer. Small scale prototypes allowed for exploration of detailed parts and functions, while full-scale prototypes allowed for size, heights and overall proportions to be expressed and analysed by the user group. This in turn impacted the scale of the herbicide and water containers. Ergonomic analysis allowed for reviews to ensure that all percentile users are able to interact with the design in a safe manner. Pixhawk navigation was used to help define the location of the device and a front-wheel-drive was utilised for the latest prototype to assist in driving the design.
How it is different
Weeds affect pasture productivity and require early detection and eradication before the effort required to eradicate them is much more intensive and they spread their seeds, starting the next cycle. The process of weed eradication is currently both time and cost-intensive on a seasonal basis. Of 10 cost analysed weeds, there is an annual cost of $165.79 million in New Zealand (Saunders, 386) Trax reduces the amount of herbicide being applied, targets the centre of the weed for maximum accuracy and effectiveness, this benefits the environment and reduces the time spent by farmers. Water and herbicide mixing once it reaches the nozzle reduce the chances of chemicals being wasted and expiring once it mixes with water. Many existing products which look at this area of innovation are engineering-driven, whereas this design purposefully allows for the value that design can bring to the agricultural industry to be highlighted through its features and benefits.
With the changing attitudes towards sustainability in the agricultural sector, there is an increasing trust being placed in non-chemical based solutions to eradicate or suppress weed species. The scalability and modularity of this design allow for the development of the parts that fit within the unit. Further development of this design would explore non-chemical liquids or mechanical removal, as well as better investment into the navigation system for better accuracy.