New weed-zapping robot unveiled by US firm

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A new robot that uniquely uses lasers to obliterate weeds has been unveiled by Carbon Robotics of Seattle.

The company has released its third generation Autonomous Weeder which uses a combination of robotics, artificial intelligence (AI), and laser technology to safely and effectively drive through crop fields to identify, target and eliminate weeds.

Those in the market for one will have to wait until 2022 as all the 2021 models have already sold out. New models for the 2022 growing season are available for pre-order.

Unlike other weeding technologies, the robots utilise high-power lasers to eradicate weeds through thermal energy, without disturbing the soil.

Farmers who operate automated robots have the ability to reduce their herbicides use, reduce labour and costs while at the same time improve crop yields.

Carbon Robotics CEO and founder, Paul Mikesell, said: “AI and deep learning technology are creating efficiencies across a variety of industries and we’re excited to apply it to agriculture. 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.”

By deploying robots of this ilk, farmers can anticipate the following:

Significant increase in crop yield and quality: Lasers leave the soil microbiology undisturbed, unlike tillage. The lack of herbicides and soil disruption paves the way for a regenerative approach, which leads to healthy crops and higher yields.

Reduction in overall costs: Automated robots enable farmers to reduce the highly variable cost of manual labour as well as reduce the use of crop inputs such as herbicides and fertilizers. Labour is often farmers’ biggest cost and crop inputs account for 28.2% of their total expenses. Reducing costs in both these areas is a huge benefit.

Adoption of regenerative farming practices: Traditional chemicals used by farmers, such as herbicides, deteriorate soil health and are tied to health problems in humans and other mammals. A laser-powered, autonomous weed management solution reduces or eliminates farmers’ needs for herbicides.

An economical path to organic farming: One of the largest obstacles to organic farming is cost-effective weed control. A solution to weed management that doesn’t require herbicides or an increase in manual labour provides farmers with a more realistic path to classifying their crops as organic.

Carbon Robotics’ ground-breaking technology is designed for row crops with 200 acres to tens of thousands of acres. A single robot will weed 15-20 acres per day and replace several deployments of hand weeding crews.

Since its founding in 2018, the company has worked closely with farmers to develop its technology, which supports effective and efficient weed elimination for both conventional and organic farmers.

The robots have undergone beta testing on specialty crops farms, working on fields with a variety of crops, including broccoli and onions.

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Chris McCullough is a freelance multi-media journalist based in Northern Ireland and has spent the past 18 years travelling the globe hunting for the best stories in food, farming and politics. Chris has won a number of awards for his photos and journalism and is always on the lookout for his next exclusive.

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