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Evaluation of ultrasonic sensor for variable-rate spray applications

Jeon, Hong Y., Zhu, Heping, Derksen, Richard, Ozkan, Edal, Krause, Charles
Computers and electronics in agriculture 2011 v.75 no.1 pp. 213
ambient temperature, canopy, cold, durability, nozzles, sprayers, travel
Automatic variable-rate sprayers require accurate measurement of canopy size. An estimate of canopy size is made by measuring the distance to the canopy at several elevations above the ground; an ultrasonic sensor was used to determine canopy distance in this study. It is sometimes necessary to conduct spray operations during harsh operating conditions. In this study ultrasonic sensors were subjected to simulated environmental and operating conditions to determine their durability and accuracy. Conditions tested included exposure to extended cold, outdoor temperatures, cross winds, temperature change, dust clouds, travel speeds and spray cloud effects. The root mean square (RMS) error in a series of measurements of the distance to a simulated plant canopy was used to test for significant difference among treatments. After exposure to outdoor cold conditions for 4 months, the RMS error in distance measured by the ultrasonic sensor increased from 3.31 to 3.55cm, which was not statistically significant. Neither the presence of dust cloud nor the changes in cross-wind speeds over a range from 1.5–7.5m/s had significant effects on the mean RMS errors. Varying sensor travel speed from 0.8 to 3.0m/s had no significant influence on sensor detection distances. Increasing ambient temperature from 16.7 to 41.6°C reduced the detection distance by 5.0cm. The physical location of the spray nozzle with respect to the ultrasonic sensor had a significant effect on mean RMS errors. The mean RMS errors of sensor distance measurements ranged from 2.3 to 83.0cm. The RMS errors could be reduced to acceptable values by proper controlling the sensor/spray nozzles spacing on a sprayer. In addition, multiple-synchronized sensors were tested for their measurement stability and accuracy (due to possible cross-talk errors) when mounted on a prototype sprayer. It was found that isolating the pathway of the ultrasonic wave of each sensor reduced detecting interference between sensors during multiple sensor operation. Test methods presented herein may be useful in the design of standardized testing protocols for field use distance sensors.