Sask. company using AI drones to enhance herbicide application

A Saskatchewan company has secured $20 million in equity and grant funding to develop artificial intelligence (AI) technology that will allow for more precise application of herbicides.

Regina-based Precision AI is looking to build solutions for producers when it comes to protecting crops with herbicides, fungicides and insecticides. The drone-based solution would enable precise application to individual weeds, only spraying chemicals where they are needed.

"We believe that the future of agriculture can be plant level precision and plant level decisions," said Warren Bills, agronomy and commercial development lead at Precision AI.

Bills said yielding application from the whole crop to only targeted areas would not only cut down on the amount of chemicals used on a crop, but also on costs for producers.

According to trials, Precision AI has data to support up to a 95 per cent reduction on certain fields.

Cutting down on the amount of chemicals also bridges the gap between conventional food production and organic food production, and could give producers an opportunity to become more profitable with these sustainable decisions.

"We're building this with farmers in mind, we've got farmers as advisors, we've got agronomists that are really helping us ensure that whatever we build as a product fits," said Bills.

Precision AI said the $20 million for the project will support the advancement of the project in the coming years.

"From a venture perspective, you can see how this company could grow and evolve and become the kind of global leader in that area that we…strive to create and partner with," said Joe Regan, managing partner for the Industrial Innovation Fund of BDC Capital.

BDC is backing the project alongside two American venture capitalists, Sustainable Development Technology Canada and Protein Industries Canada.

“We can legitimately create leaders, create wealth and prosperity for everybody involved in the local community and use that as a nexus for the next generation and for the generations of technology entrepreneurs and companies, especially when you look at the prairies,” added Regan.

Growing from ideation in 2018, the project is currently in the beta testing phase.

"We're doing a lot of field trials to perfect the ability to actually detect the weeds inside of a canola crop or inside of a wheat crop, so that's kind of our first step," said Bills.

Precision AI is hoping to have a product on the market capable of detection for next season.

"We're probably two to three years away from executing on the full vision of swarming and drone spraying, but definitely the foundation and the groundwork is being laid in the field this year," said Bills.

He added they see it as an opportunity to be better and do better.