Tractor-towed Vulcan automatically spots and pulls weeds
Nobody likes the idea of herbicides in their veggies, yet hiring workers to pick weeds by hand can be prohibitively expensive for farmers. The Vulcan farm implement offers an alternative, as it automatically spots and yanks out weeds while leaving crop plants alone.
Developed by MIT spinoff ag-tech company FarmWise, the Vulcan is a wheeled device that is towed through the fields by a human-driven tractor.
Depending on the model, it consists of either one or three "beds," each of which is capable of covering one to eight rows of plants (it varies with the species). The beds incorporate sets of weed-pulling motorized blades, along with an Intelligent Plant Scanner module which contains multiple cameras, LED spotlights and a microprocessor.
As that module moves overtop of the rows, it uses custom machine-learning-based algorithms to first determine which plants are weeds, and then to guide the blades in the mechanical yanking of those weeds. The system also knows to not yank the crop plants – it is reportedly able to visually recognize 20 different varieties.
According to FarmWise, the Vulcan can be used day or night, on wet or dry fields – its electronics are IP69 waterproof, meaning they can withstand being washed down at pressures of up to 100 bar (1,450 psi). The single-bed model is claimed to weigh under 3,500 lb (1,588 kg).
The Vulcan is available now for preorder, with first deliveries planned to commence in October. Pricing is not being publicly announced at this point in time.
Other systems – such as Greeneye, Solix Sprayer and Herbicide GUSS – are capable of autonomously spotting weeds and dousing them with herbicide.
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The big tractor-drawn weedpuller seems like using a computer to print mail to be delivered by trucks, rather than by using email, just because "that's the way it's always been done".
Currently, most farmers don't even have plows - it's all chemistry. We need cat-size gardening robots, 3-D printed by the millions. I'd start with a RC car chassis.
Plows have been replaced by disks, spring tooths, and shredders because of minimum till. It takes more broadcast herbicide due to the surface trash, but that could be drastically reduced with computer aided spot application and devices like the Vulcan.