New robot weeder may lower our dependence on disease-causing herbicides

BoniRob1When was the last time you saw a commercial farmer weeding by hand?

Unless you’ve visited India or China, probably not in your lifetime.

In the modern age, the application of herbicides is the preferred method for ridding fields of weeds.

Herbicides are dumped by airplane, helicopter, tractor, mechanical sprinklers, and automated tankers pouring it directly into water delivery systems.

In our area in southeastern Arizona farm employees don’t even dig out weeds in roadways and sidewalks. Instead, they drive around in all-terrain vehicles shooting streams of herbicide at weed targets up to thirty feet away.

Even a casual observer will note a large percentage of the chemical concoctions land elsewhere or simply dissipates into the air.

Fortunately modern technology not only causes problems but can also solve problems. And the German company Bosch may have the answer to our increasing dependence on herbicides.

Bosch has developed a robot capable of identifying weeds and stamping them into the ground—quickly and effectively.

The scientific breakthrough is a result of research done by Bosch’s Deerfield Robotics division, Osnabrück University, and Amazone.

According to an article in Popular Mechanics, the speed at which the robot can identify targets and stamp them into the ground is almost too fast to witness.

BoniRob2

The name of the robot weeder is BoniRob, and it’s about the size of a small car. But that’s where the similarities end. Instead of sleek lines, BoniRob’s attraction is its cutting-edge technology. It uses the same type of laser-radar vision system that Google’s self-driving cars use to navigate the world to identify weeds.

When it travels through a field in search of weeds, it uses a device about .4 inches (1 cm) wide to stamp undesired plants into the ground.

No doubt the machine could revolutionize the future of agriculture as it removes the need for modern farmers to rely upon herbicides to control weeds.

If you’re not impressed and don’t think this is a game changer, consider that BoniRob is capable of killing nearly two weeds a second!

And according to Popular Mechanics, the accuracy is also uncanny.

When BoniRob was given tests in a carrot patch, it stamped out about 90% of the weeds.

The robot is programmed by being shown pictures of leaves from plants farmers want to harvest, as well as weeds.

Using machine learning—a type of artificial intelligence that allows it to make decisions based on what it has been shown—it applies its knowledge to the task at hand and crushes weeds it has been programmed to kill.

The more the machine is programmed, the better its learning systems get.

BoniRob  also refines its notion of what each of the weeds is, therefore, gets a little better at its job each time it is given a task.

At present, the machine is being tested on real farmland, and has been shown to run autonomously for about 24 hours before it runs out of gas.

In the future, the company aims to rent or sell the robot to farmers seeking to cut down on manual labor costs.

If farmers were to employ the help of a robot, says the company, they could continue to increase crop output—and keep up with the world’s growing demand for food—without reliance on herbicides.

So far BoniRob has received wide acceptance in publications worldwide. It has been featured everywhere from tech magazines to TreeHugger.com.

We can only hope BoniRob fulfills the lofty goal of lowering dependence on herbicides. Time will tell.