Weed control today is hardly perfect. Hand-weeding is tedious. Chemical control is costly and can succumb to resistant weeds over time. So why not build a robot to get the job done?
That idea may seem frivolous or futuristic, but German engineers at Deepfield Robotics have already designed a functional prototype. It features a camera and sensors that are trained to identify small weeds, with a rod that stamps the weeds underground. So far, the bot can punch out 120 weeds per minute with an 80% accuracy.
“For weed treatment, that's okay because the idea is to run multiple times over the field,” says general manager Amos Albert, general manager. “If it misses the weed one time, maybe next time it recognizes it.”
The robot, about the size of a compact car, is relatively small by design, according to Deepfield Robotics.
“Too heavy machines cause undesired soil compaction, and it is difficult to transport them on public roads,” they report. “Furthermore, when using heavy equipment, up to 90% of energy consumption is required for tilling tasks and to repair damages caused by the high soil compaction.”
The process takes quite a bit of calculus and computing to work, and the researchers say there are still technological challenges to overcome. They will conduct additional testing in 2016, making the question more valid than ever – will robots someday replace herbicides on the farm?