Nikolay Durmanov: "Knowing the plant culture and the nuances of preparing the soil, you can adjust the equipment to the ideal conditions for sowing"
29 NOVEMBER / 2019
By 2024, the agrarian revolution should double the growth of productivity in agriculture. Nikolay Durmanov, Director of the Ctrl2GO Department of Innovative Technologies in the Agro-Industrial Complex, told about super services for farmers and the industry future in the interview to the Train and Brain magazine.
Weeds have no chance

Nikolay Dmitrievich, in August, you conducted successful tests of your intellectual system for fighting against Sosnowski hogweed. Until now, the market has not had any comprehensive solutions for the destruction of this poisonous plant. What is unique about your technology?

Today, according to various sources, more than 1 million hectares are infected with hogweed in the Russian territory. Let me remind you that in Soviet times, hogweed was specially sown to provide a fodder base for animal husbandry, but this turned into a disaster. Each year, each plant produces about 70 thousand seeds; they live for more than five years. Hogweed carefully takes care of its offspring: its root secretes a substance that burns sod ensuring the unhindered germination of seeds.

The most popular methods for controlling this weed come down to local spraying of the well-known glyphosate herbicide that simultaneously kills all other vegetation, which causes significant environmental damage. This approach only helps hogweed to grow next year due to its seeds biding their time underground.
Director of the Ctrl2GO Department of Innovative Technologies in the Agro-Industrial Complex
"Ctrl2go has been occupied with remote exploration technologies for a long time"
Our company has been occupied with remote exploration technologies for a long time. We began to determine the hogweed thickets from images from space, aerial photographs using special multispectral and hyperspectral cameras. At first, it was manual work, later we made it automatic – we wrote a recognition program and taught it to detect harmful plants using the images from space.

The satellites fly far and high, so we double-check and confirm their data with the help of pilotless drones, which, with the information from space, detect the presence of hogweed very accurately, sometimes to a single plant. So we get accurate maps of its spread. These technologies are exclusive to Russia.

How do robots help in the destruction of a poisonous plant?

In the fight against weed, we use helicopter-type sprayer drones. Drones spray specially selected chemical compositions onto the weeds. We can simultaneously launch a hundred drones over the field, a whole swarm. Each such device is filled with 10 to 20 liters of herbicide mixtures. The drones are controlled by an intelligent system that automatically determines the flight route in accordance with the maps of hogweed growth areas.

The combined use of flying vehicles and ground-based spraying robots has a particular effect. This allows one to treat the most inaccessible areas, including on very rough terrain. In addition, we launch ground-based drones if the sky above the territory is closed for flights for any reason: due to power lines, the proximity of settlements or important infrastructure (for example, you can't fly near airports).

Ground robots receive route tracks from reconnaissance drones and satellites. Such a crawling robot can move with the help of both a gasoline engine and batteries.

And finally, for some special cases, there is an option of treating plants with knapsack sprayers. It is understandable that there are cases when the chemistry is not applicable in the fight against hogweed as a matter of principle, for example, along river banks. Then the weed is removed mechanically.
How safe are the spray chemicals for the environment?

We are conducting operations to fight hogweed under the strict supervision of the All-Russian Institute for Plant Protection. Scientists have developed a special mixture of herbicides that affects only the dicotyledonous broad-leaved plants, that is, mainly hogweed, leaving the grass and sod almost intact.

At the same time, we managed to achieve good results by treating plants with ultra-small volumes of chemicals. Due to the design of the spraying system on drones and special additives to herbicides, we need about 10 times lower amounts of solutions compared to the traditional methods of processing weeds – 20 liters versus 200 per 1 ha.

Another advantage of using drones is a good airflow created by the drone with its many propellers during spraying: weed leaves sway, allowing chemicals to fall on a large surface of the plant and reach the soil, which is also important for the prevention of future shoots.

How are results tracked?

With any report on the area treatment, in addition to the photographs of destroyed hogweed from the ground level and from the unmanned aerial vehicles, we provide space images of these areas indicating the tracks along which our drones flew. The treatment effect is clearly visible from above, especially when special recognition programs are used.

The fight against hogweed is relevant to many regions. Do the local authorities show their interest in your developments?

Yes, for example, now we are developing cooperation with Moscow Region. The region annually allocates dozens of millions of rubles to fight hogweed. At the same time, the regional government has imposed fines: if some poisonous weed is discovered on the site, legal entities will have to pay up to 1 million rubles. But the issue lies in the fact that any conventional methods of detecting such violations are ineffective.

We proposed to the regional government our technologies for detecting and fighting the plants and demonstrated how it works on the large areas heavily overgrown with hogweed. The commission that came to these fields and took part in the evaluation of the experiment results, was impressed. We are currently holding negotiations on joint projects for the next seasons.
Are you ready for the mass demand for this technology? How do you plan to develop it?

We are working on our franchise offer to the market. It will allow anyone to receive data on the location of territories infected with hogweed, tracks for unmanned or manned vehicles, and chemical solutions from us. On request, the customer will be able to buy, rent unmanned aerial vehicles or ground-based types of robots from us or our partners, and independently conduct the area treatment. For our part, we will provide a report on the results of the work carried out and, if necessary, give further recommendations.

Sensors for machinery and cows

In what other areas of agriculture can the "digit" benefit?

In agriculture, the "digit" is needed even more than in machine-building, for example in livestock. Here's a simple example: you can attach a pedometer to a cow's leg on pasture and read how far it has traveled every day. Thus you will know the average number of animal steps per day. If it gradually increases, it means that the cow is short of feed or water. You can make adjustments to the grazing mode or the watering places design. You can do without sensors as well – a drone with a thermal camera will not only see the cow but will also be able to measure its temperature. It is even more important to assess the condition of pastures or hayfields, to plan the mode of grazing or harvesting hay – here the satellite and unmanned information is absolutely necessary.

Or, for example, we can equip agricultural machinery with our predictive analytics systems, which are widely used to collect and analyze data on the operation of locomotives, and receive a wide range of data from it. Imagine that you need to sow a field with, let's say, wheat. Knowing the plant culture and the nuances of preparing the soil, you can adjust the equipment to the ideal conditions for sowing: set the tractor speed, the diameter of the nozzles in the seeder and more.

The same goes for tillage or fertilizing. The digital control of equipment operation, soil conditions, the exact mode of fertilizer application, the optimal seeding rates – all this can increase the yield by 20% or more. The same technology makes it possible to automatically send key data (high-speed mode, fuel consumption, trajectory) from any machine directly to accounting documents for making calculations and charges.

In October, Ctrl2GO and the Analytical Center of the Russian Ministry of Agriculture signed an agreement on the development of digital solutions. What does this work imply?

We proposed to develop an open-type intelligent platform for the Ministry of Agriculture based on the State Industry Information System created by the Ministry of Industry and Trade. A whole range of services are implemented there: financial, technology transfer, information service, virtual trading floors are open, there are industry portals, etc. Similar services can be very useful for agriculture. Why, in this case, spend budgetary funds on the development of what has already been done at public expense? We will be able to transfer some of the ready-made services to this platform, and also develop some other part in addition. Since this system will be open, it will be easy to integrate any reliable service developed by someone at the request of the Ministry of Agriculture or on one's own initiative.

But what will make your product unique?

We can collect data, process it, store, provide it to various systems, verify, aggregate, analyze and so on. This opens up the widest opportunities for the department. For example, today, farmers report to the Ministry of Agriculture about the types of crops sown and the amounts harvested. In one of these reports, a Rostov-based entrepreneur indicated that he had collected 180 centners of wheat from 1 hectare. But the average yield in the region is 34 centners! Obviously, he didn't grow anything at all but bought wheat from his neighbors as soon as they harvested, and thus he tries to avoid taxes. We can verify this from space data: see what and how much is grown anywhere in the world.

In addition, our developments are capable of predicting crop yields with high accuracy. Based on Big Data, artificial intelligence gives not only the most favorable time for sowing in each specific field but also useful information on what fertilizers to apply, whether it is necessary to treat weeds and pests, when to harvest and so on.

How do you see the 'smart farming' in the future?

We aim for building a system, in which the farmer will not feel left to their own devices, working at their own risk. Their field will be equipped with sensors helping artificial intelligence calculate what exactly to sow and when it is better to sow. Unmanned tractors will till and sow fields. The images from outer space will reveal the areas where, if necessary, fertilizing or combating pests should be carried out, they will provide data on the harvest time. Unmanned harvesters will harvest.

Sale bots will deliver products to the warehouse or directly to the buyer. When they are sold, the farmer will receive the information about the profit on their phone. I believe that in 15–20 years this will become a reality. Man will become the head of these systems maintenance, the new age is preparing a more intellectual and exciting work for him.