Self-Driving Farm Robot Uses Lasers To Kill 100,000 Weeds An Hour

Self-Driving Farm Robot Uses Lasers To Kill 100,000 Weeds An Hour. By John Koestsier.

The nutrient content of our vegetables is down 40% over the last two decades and our soil health is suffering due to increasingly harsh herbicide use, according to Carbon Robotics founder Paul Mikesell. And farmers are increasingly concerned about the long-term health impacts of continually spraying chemicals on their fields.

But not weeding will cost half your crop, killing profitability.

The solution?

A self-driving farm robot that kills 100,000 weeds an hour … by laser. …

Poor soil health is a potentially existential problem: without the ability to produce food, even a rich, modern, technological society will crash.

The American Society for Horticultural Science says that evidence points “toward declines of some nutrients in fruits and vegetables available in the United States and the United Kingdom,” and Scientific American says that “crops grown decades ago were much richer in vitamins and minerals than the varieties most of us get today.” …

Weeds are getting harder to kill as herbicide-resistant varieties survive, forcing herbicide manufacturers to reformulate ever-more-potent chemicals. That has potential impacts on farmer health — rumors of chemicals like glyphosate contributing to cancer and paraquat leading to Parkinson’s — and it has serious impacts on soil health. …

Besides human labor, which is not scalable, herbicides are pretty much the only answer.

Until Carbon Robotics’ autonomous Laserweeder.

The weeding machine is a beast at almost 10,000 pounds. It boasts no fewer than eight independently-aimed 150-watt lasers, typically used for metal cutting, that can fire 20 times per second. They’re guided by 12 high-resolution cameras connected to AI systems that can recognize good crops from bad weeds. The Laserweeder drives itself with computer vision, finding the furrows in the fields, positioning itself with GPS, and searching for obstacles with LIDAR.

It drives 5 miles/hour and can clear 15-20 acres in a day. …

It also works all night long, with high-powered lights that illuminate the crop bed so the cameras can see the plants clearly and the computer systems can identify them.

How’s it working?

“It’s very effective,” says Mikesell. “We’ve done this through several seasons now. The farmers are elated and we’ve been able to save them a lot of money on their weed bills.”

Carbon Robotics is just coming out of the prototype phase and into a commercialization phase now.

Soil erosion is the main environmental problem in Australia. Much of the problem is caused by plowing or herbicides, which damage the communities of bacteria in the soil that hold the soil together and retain moisture. New soils are only made by volcanism and glaciers, which is why Australia, the oldest land in the world, has the poorest soils. And once soil is lost, it’s gone.

Can’t wait for the suburban ride-on version. Maybe the street could pitch in and share one.