Fewer herbicides and richer crops through geospatial data and AI

Laura Diez

Startup Stories

Since Orbica was founded in February 2017, the startup has gained an excellent international reputation as a provider of innovative and value-adding solutions.

Back at the beginning of the year, we spoke to Matthias Frye, Head of Marketing and Sales for the European market at Orbica, about the startup's solution and how companies can use it to reduce risks not only for their supply chain, but for their entire value chain. Less than 12 months later, Frye tells us about two more exciting use cases and their implementation in the market: "We are proud of our successful collaboration with Bayer Environmental Science to reduce the use of herbicides by 50 percent!"

In an interview with 5-HT Digital Hub Chemistry & Health, he explains how exactly this works and how Orbica is driving the digitization of agriculture.

Matthias Frye, Head of Marketing and Sales for the European market at Orbica

Orbica is driving innovation in Geo-AI, the application of artificial intelligence methods to geospatial data. An important part of their unique solutions are interactive data visualizations that enable users to understand and use the results of AI.

Datastorytelling - The visualization of data as graphics

"Orbica specializes in the processing of geo-data and this is actually always in combination with a particularly intuitive visualization of this data or in combination with data science and machine learning.

This means that we use geospatial data to make predictions using statistical models with the help of neural networks," explains Matthias Frye. "For example, to predict floods or traffic accidents." This also includes quantifying supply chain risks with a data science approach.

But users must also be able to easily understand and use the model results. That's why we're also looking at visualizing geospatial data in a particularly user-friendly way. This can go as far as creating stories from the data that tell stories using maps and thus enable digital storytelling."

"A visualization of data as a graphic is always more meaningful than a mere column of numbers," Frye explains. For example, presenting data with a map often appeals to people emotionally as well. This is because people usually feel emotional attachment to their own city or country.

"We extract the essence from data, make it intuitively experienceable through innovative visualization in real time and thus generate economic added value," explains Matthias Frye.

"In addition, we also deal with particularly simple and intuitive visualization of technical data. This was now also the case with the Bayer project, for example."

Smart use of weed killers 

Uncontrolled vegetation causes damage, delays and safety issues for rail traffic. Bayer Environmental Science's Smart Weeding System uses weed detection technology to precisely spray herbicides only where weeds are present. Orbica helped Bayer develop a digital platform to monitor maintenance activities and results, reducing herbicide use by 50%.

"Orbica lives agility and customer focus. The team mastered data complexity and created an extremely user-friendly and powerful application," commented Tobias Thaler, Digital and Data Science Lead, Bayer Environmental Science.

The developers of the Smart Weeding System Will Jones and Anna Kiss

Weather conditions a critical factor for herbicide application

"Bayer has become more competitive because of our application," Frye said. "That's because customers get very comprehensive data on maintenance operations:

  • Where were herbicides sprayed?

  • At what rate did the work proceed?

  • How much product was applied?

  • What were the weather conditions?

This is quite crucial when applying herbicides, as external conditions can affect the application. If there is too much rainfall, the herbicides are washed away and, on the one hand, do not develop their effect at all and, on the other hand, in the worst case, it can then seep into the environment. A similar impairment occurs when the wind is too strong, because then the herbicides are quickly distributed in the environment, possibly also in inappropriate places. Therefore, weather conditions are a critical factor.

In order to reopen the track for regular use as quickly as possible, it is advantageous to know the speed of the work. So there are just many other parameters and data that are of high importance for our customers.

The application provides users with an intuitive interface to download the data in a targeted manner. Being able to navigate through the data and quickly compare different work shifts greatly increases effectiveness.

Dashboard Smart Weeding Systems

Complexity of the data poses the greatest challenge

"In our project with Bayer, the biggest challenge was the complexity of the data," Frye reports. "It takes a lot of transformations to make the data flow optimally at the interface between the technical train and our solution," Frye continues.

This train, which travels over the tracks spraying herbicides, provides a very large amount of raw data during operation that needs to be processed,.

"At the end of the day, you have to imagine, we're getting a wide variety of sensor data from this train on every single nozzle and every single camera. Inside the train is a GPS unit, various sensors, and a small weather station."

Orbica's main concern is keeping the system's response times to the user as short as possible, because nothing is worse than a slow-responding application where the user has to wait a long time.

Other possible applications to increase sustainability

"First and foremost, of course, nature benefits from this particular smart weeding solution. Among other things, the groundwater, because ultimately, if these herbicides are not broken down, they end up in the groundwater, and that's an important point.

The same technique can also be used in agriculture. Weed killers are used there as well, so it makes perfect sense to use the Smart Weeding System when applying herbicides to fields."

Orbica drives digitalization of agriculture

Nowadays, farmers are at least half IT experts and work very extensively with digital farming solutions. This ranges from improving soil quality, sowing, applying fertilizers and herbicides to harvesting. Overall, many digital solutions are brought together to maximize crop yield from a cost and benefit perspective.

In a joint project with FarmChamps, Orbica has developed a digital crop forecasting solution for feed production as well as biofuel production.

"It makes us very proud when our customers are successful in the marketplace with the results of our work," Frye said. FarmChamps uses a satellite-based field vigor model to forecast crop yields for farmers and biofuel producers. Orbica helped FarmChamps develop a web solution to make informed food production decisions. This includes understanding current crop status, planning more efficient harvests, and forecasting expected yields.

Dashboard FarmChamps solution

Access to relevant players through 5-HT Digital Hub

"We were very successful this year and were able to win quite a number of new customers, such as Bayer or FarmChamps," Frye reports. "Nevertheless, we are open to more companies that want to implement visualization projects with us. Currently, we are primarily looking for customers for our data science and AI applications.

We are proud to be a part of the 5-HT Digital Hub ecosystem, gaining new access to companies and other players in the network.

Because it's important to pay attention to sales from the beginning. The solutions all don't sell themselves," laughs Frye. "That's why you should think about which target group you want to address and how best to reach them right from the start. In addition, it's always worth participating in Startup Challenges and networking with relevant players. Whether it's supply chain risk management, digital storytelling, or site selection and optimization, Orbica's diverse applications around geospatial data are highly relevant to the chemical and healthcare industries.

Still not enough about Orbica? Click here to read Orbica's startup story on Risk Management: From Supply Chain to Value Chain.

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