Weed-free sports fields with machine learning and mechanics
“We like to play sports on a pitch of grass without herbicides,” says André Trip of the Twente-based company Grootgroener. They developed a machine that uses artificial intelligence and machine learning to detect weeds and remove it using mechanical means. “It is a people- and environmentally friendly solution.” Together with his colleague Job Dekker, André is taking part in the Innovate GO program with their Weedaway machine. Their ambition? “Give the first demonstrations this summer.”
The focus of Grootgroener, a company from Wierden, is on finding people- and environmentally friendly solutions. With a team of forty-five employees, Grootgroener offers land management services to municipal governments and businesses. “We maintain sports fields, gardens, terrains and public green areas. We also combat the oak processionary where needed,” says manager Job Dekker.
Taking care of your employees
Director André Trip is constantly looking for solutions to make land management faster and more welfare friendly. “For me, that is part of good employership. In the past, many people working in this sector did not make it to their retirement because of the physical strain that the work put on their bodies. Today, we can use technological solutions to reduce this physical strain. We are constantly on the lookout for such innovations.”
Innovation inspired by legislative changes
The company highly values environmentally friendly methods. “We opt for biological solutions and use nematodes and bacteria to combat the oak processionary, for example.” A few years ago, Grootgroener launched a pilot in collaboration with the municipality of Wierden to look for ways to eliminate weeds from sports fields without resorting to chemical herbicides. This innovation was partly inspired by legislative changes. The use of herbicides on sports fields will be banned from 2022. “We have the technical capabilities to do his,” André explains. We could extract the weeds instead of spraying them with herbicides, but that would be an extremely labor-intensive and time-consuming process. We looked for the right partners and additional expertise to further develop our idea.”
From idea to machine
Together with machine developer Gebroeders Ezendam from Borne, they drew the first sketches and built various prototypes. This ultimately resulted in the Weedaway, a machine that uses artificial intelligence and machine learning to identify and eliminate the most common types of weed. “Our designs kept getting bigger and bigger. We would weld pieces together, throw some out and then make new improvements,” André says. “What we have now is a machine that is ready for field testing. We hope to be able to demonstrate the Weedaway to clients this summer.”
To gain more focus, André and Job joined the Innovate GO program in late 2020. Job: “As a contractor, it is easy to get caught up in the daily hustle and bustle. This program ensures we stop to work on our innovation every Tuesday. We receive excellent coaching as well.” They are taking part in two tracks. How do we make sure we have a functional machine and what should our business model look like? “We realized that we will soon not only have a machine, but that it also collects a wealth of data. We are now incorporating application for those data in our business model.” The team sees myriad market opportunities for their innovation. André: “Chemical-free land management benefits society as a whole and the Weedaway can be used on any field of natural grass, including e.g. parks and golf courses.”
Making time for innovation
The team will continue to utilize the Innovate GO approach. “It is incredibly important to make time for innovation,” Job states. “That is why we will use the program’s method from now on.” When asked what their next innovation will be, André smiles secretively: “That is strictly confidential. We have no shortage of ideas; what we lack is enough time to develop them all. Nevertheless, this innovation has already come a long way in my head.”
Are you interested in expediting your own business case’s path to market?
Innovate GO is a unique accelerator program developed by Novel-T and the province of Overijssel that is specifically designed to support SMEs. In a hands-on program, entrepreneurs work together in teams to develop and market their business cases. They receive the guidance, coaching and knowledge they need to take their initial steps towards their market. Want to know more about the possibilities for your innovation?