Robotics

Autonomous Weeder robot uses lasers to take out 100,000 plants an hour

Autonomous Weeder robot uses l...
The Autonomous runs on diesel and can operate around the clock
The Autonomous Weeder runs on diesel and can operate around the clock
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The Autonomous runs on diesel and can operate around the clock
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The Autonomous Weeder runs on diesel and can operate around the clock
The Autonomous Weeder can zap 100,000 weeds an hour using lasers
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The Autonomous Weeder can zap 100,000 weeds an hour using lasers
Carbon Robotics has been beta-testing its robot weeder in the field with the help of farmers
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Carbon Robotics has been beta-testing its robot weeder in the field with the help of farmers
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Whether you're a farmer tending to expansive crops that you depend on for your livelihood or a hobbyist gardener trying to keep your tomatoes in check, weeds can be a time-consuming and relentless problem. Startup Carbon Robotics has wheeled out an autonomous machine that has these pesky plants in its cross hairs, using a combination of computer vision and high-powered lasers to comb fields and take out thousands of weeds an hour.

Advances in robotics have opened up some interesting possibilities in the realm of weed control, where traditional solutions have involved either intensive manual labor or the use of chemicals that can be expensive and carry environmental risks. By equipping automated machines with the necessary gear and know-how to seek out invasive, undesirable plants, the hope is that much of this process can be automated, leaving the crops healthy and farmers with more money and time on their hands.

We have seen how this kind of approach could be used to delicately heat water in the weed's cells to stunt their growth with low-powered lasers, use electrical "lightning strikes" to boil them from the inside out, or take them out by hitting them with projectiles made from organic grit.

For its solution, Carbon Robotics has built a 9,500-lb (4,300-kg), four-wheeled robot that uses GPS and computer vision to trundle through crops on the lookout for weeds. It relies on an onboard supercomputer and high-resolution cameras to identify unwanted plants, and then eight simultaneously operating 150-W lasers to kill them off with thermal energy by targeting their meristems, at a rate of more than 100,000 weeds an hour.

The Autonomous Weeder can zap 100,000 weeds an hour using lasers
The Autonomous Weeder can zap 100,000 weeds an hour using lasers

The fully autonomous machine runs on diesel and can operate around the clock, covering 15 to 20 acres (6 to 8 ha) per day, while its lasers leave the surrounding soil undisturbed to preserve its microbiology. The company bills its Autonomous Weeder as an economical solution to improving crop yields, especially for organic growers and those adopting regenerative farming practices to ensure the long-term health of their soil.

“AI and deep learning technology are creating efficiencies across a variety of industries and we’re excited to apply it to agriculture,” says Carbon Robotics CEO and Founder, Paul Mikesell. “Farmers, and others in the global food supply chain, are innovating now more than ever to keep the world fed. Our goal at Carbon Robotics is to create tools that address their most challenging problems, including weed management and elimination.”

Carbon Robotics has been developing and beta testing its weed-killing robots since 2018 with the help of farmers, and has already sold out of its 2021 models, though pre-orders are now open for the 2022 line.

You can check out the promo video below.

The Autonomous Weeder - Eliminates Weeds with Lasers

Source: Carbon Robotics

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12 comments
michael_dowling
If it works as well as chemicals,that is excellent news. The only thing that bothers me is it runs on diesel-perhaps they could use biodiesel. I wonder how it would be marketed to farmers? Would they pay to have their fields treated by an outside contractor? I can't see the farmer buying one,as the cost would likely be in the millions.
paul314
Unless there's a really narrow window for weeding, one machine ought to be able to take care of a lot of fields. Can it also work once the plants are (partly?) grown?
BlueOak
@M_D, why would it be crazy expensive?

Seems like there’d be some significant R&D costs to amortize, but the hardware shouldn’t be expensive at all. A 74 HP engine driving a pickup truck sized platform with some lasers, cameras, sonar sensors and cheap NVIDIA cpus.

In fact, it is reported to be priced similarly to a mid-size tractor or somewhere a bit over $100,000.

Very cool tech.

Seems like their biggest challenge might be the Open Border Lobby since this puts “temporary farm workers” out of a job.
Jorel
Very interesting machine, but as is the other commenter I am perturbed that it uses diesel - the cognitive dissonance is strong there... I suppose most industrial farms large enough to need or afford one of these (a modern combine already costs up to half a million $USD) would have infrastructure in place for diesel fuel, but wouldn't it make sense for a forward-thinking design like this to be forward-thinking in it's power source as well? Electric with on-board solar panels would seem preferable, but yes, even bio-diesel would be an improvement.
Leithauser
If it cuts down on herbicides, that will be great. These are not good for the food crops or for the people who eat the food. I do wish it could be electrically (battery) powered instead of diesel, though. Maybe someday.
paleochocolate
@michael_dowling What's wrong with Diesel? I know it's got a bad rep for emissions and stuff, but at the moment, it's a very practical package. And the little diesel fuel is loads better than the chemicals that get sprayed by the gallons anyway.
DaveWesely
This is the future of farming. There is some improvement to be made. First off, this is a single task machine - cultivating young plants, so it has a very short use cycle. Once the plants are large, it can no longer cultivate them. It straddles the rows and has a very low crop clearance. It may work okay for some specialized vegetable cropping, but that is less than 4% of row crop in the US. So it's too big to fit between rows, probably because of the diesel generator. Go all electric to reduce size and complexity. Practically every row crop field has power lines next to it. Figure out how to set up charging stations on the end rows and you need very little battery capacity. The robots should be multi-task like a tractor. That means hydraulics, electrical connections and implement attachment interfaces. Eventually the robots should be able to handle everything from planting to harvest, with the farmer managing robots instead of tediously driving back and forth across the field.
TechGazer
Maintaining some 'cover crop' might be beneficial, so add a bit more video processing and it could differentiate between good weeds and bad ones, and even trim their growth for maximum benefits. It could zap bad bugs too, leaving the beneficials.

Diesel is a good choice for an R&D version. If there's a demand for an electric version, it'll get developed.
Spud Murphy
paleochocolate, diesel is actually quite toxic and carcinogenic (https://www.cancer.org/cancer/cancer-causes/diesel-exhaust-and-cancer.html#:~:text=Its%20major%20goal%20is%20to,diesel%20exhaust%20and%20bladder%20cancer.). Diesel should be the last resort fuel of choice, unfortunately it's the first though of most farm machinery manufacturers because it's what they have experience with. That will change, but sooner is better than later.
Brian
Wall-E the weeder