A new farming robot that identifies and punches weeds out of existence, eliminating the need for herbicides could be the next big thing in agricultural technology
Weeds. For farmers, this is a four-letter word that’s about as dirty as they come as the prolific annoyances require hours of painstaking effort and undesirable chemical use to try to keep them at bay.
But now a startup company, funded by Bosch, thinks they may have developed a plausible solution that could do away with herbicide use altogether. The solution comes in the form of a compact car-sized robot called the Bonirob.
The Bonirob has been developed by a start-up known as Deepfield Robotics and is the result of a public joint project funded by Germany’s Federal Ministry of Food and Agriculture. It has been designed to help relieve farmers of some of the more tedious tasks of the job – namely keeping weeds at bay.
The robot has been built as a kind of mobile plant lab that does a variety of tasks – among which is identifying weeds and punching them out of existence with a death stick or ramming rod.
In a trial run with carrot cultivation, the Bonirob hammering rod was over 90% effective in obliterating weeds out of existence, eliminating the need to use costly and potentially harmful herbicides on plants meant for human consumption.
But how does Binirob know which it know which plants to save and which to crush? According to Popular Science, Bonirob uses a kind of machine learning or artificial intelligence called decision tree learning.
To teach the robot which plants are good and which should be destroyed, researchers have been showing the Bonirob a multitude of pictures of healthy leaves which they’ve marked as “good”, along with tons of pictures of “bad” plants or weeds.
Using all the data it has been given, the Bonirob then goes into the field and makes decisions about which plants to save and which plants to punch.
“Over time, based on parameters such as leaf colour, shape, and size, Bonirob learns how to differentiate more and more accurately between the plants we want and the plants we don’t want,” Professor Amos Albert, general manager of Deepfield Robotics, told Popular Science.
Besides finding and destroying menacing weeds, the Bonirob can also serve other useful purposes. The autonomous robot has also been usful in determining which strains of plant are the hardiest or mot likely to survive insects and viruses. It can also help farmer determine how much fertilizer might be need as well.
According to Birgit Schulz communication lead at Deepfield, a fleet of Bonirob robots might also be useful for farmers in identifying areas that need more weeding than others.
While the developers of Bonirob are making great leaps with their work in developing this agricultural robot, most farmers will still have to wait a wile before they can get their hands on one. The Bonirob is currently only available as a researcher platform. Though developers behind the Bonirob technology can’t offer any solid information on when the weed-killing machine might be brought to market, the Deepfield company is confident they are working on a game changer which could have widespread impact on farming of the future.