A robot is killing weeds by zapping them with electricity
Three robots have been assigned a mission in an English field: they are to locate and zap weeds with electricity before planting seeds in the newly cleared soil that has been prepared.
Developed by Small Robot Company to eliminate weeds without the use of chemicals or heavy machinery, Tom, Dick, and Harry are three robots that have been named after people in the company.
Since 2017, the startup has been working on developing autonomous weed killers, and in April, it introduced Tom, its first commercially available robot. Tom is now working on three farms in the United Kingdom. The remaining robots are currently in the prototype stage and are being put through their paces.
Small Robot proudly declares himself to be a robotic being. Tom has the ability to scan up to 20 hectares (49 acres) per day, collecting data that is then used by Dick, a “crop-care” robot, to zap weeds in the field. Then Harry, the robot, will plant seeds in the weed-free soil that has been prepared previously.
Farmers could save up to 40 percent on costs and up to 95 percent on chemical usage once the system is fully operational, according to the company.
It is estimated that the global trade in pesticides reached six million metric tons in 2018, valued at $38 billion, according to the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization.
Weaning farmers away from a chemical-based diet is the goal of Ben Scott-Robinson, co-founder and CEO of Small Robot. “Our system enables farmers to wean their depleted, damaged soils,” he says.
The zapping of weeds
Approximately £7 million ($9.9 million) has been raised by Small Robot, according to the company. Scott-Robinson claims that the company hopes to have a fully operational robot system by 2023, at a cost of approximately £400 ($568) per hectare of land. In the beginning, only the monitoring robot is installed on a farm, with the weeding and planting robots being delivered only when data indicates that they are needed.
Small Robot collaborated with another UK-based startup, RootWave, to develop the zapping technology. Small Robot was founded in 2012.
As Scott-Robinson explains, “It produces an electric current that travels through the plant’s roots, through soil, and then back up, completely destroying the weed.” The researchers say they can identify and eradicate each individual plant that poses a threat to crop plants.
According to him, “it’s not quite as quick as spraying the entire field.” The weeds are only in the areas of the field where we need to enter, so keep that in mind as well. Plants that are either neutral to the crops or beneficial to them are not removed from the landscape.
This is referred to as “per plant farming” by Small Robot, which is a method of precise agriculture in which each plant is tracked and accounted for individually.
A business case
Kit Franklin, a lecturer in agricultural engineering at Harper Adams University, says that efficiency is still a major challenge.
“I have no doubt that the electrical system is functioning properly,” he says in an interview with CNN Business. “A large-scale sprayer, on the other hand, can cover hundreds of hectares per day… For us to pursue this extremely precise weed-killing system, we must accept that we will experience a reduction in output that will be extremely difficult to overcome.”
Franklin, on the other hand, believes that if farmers see a compelling business case for adopting the technology, they will do so.
In his words, “There is a growing recognition that farming in an environmentally friendly manner is also a method of farming efficiently.” We will save money by using fewer inputs where and when they are needed. We will also benefit the environment and the farmers’ perceptions by doing so.
Small Robot hopes to improve the quality of the soil and the biodiversity of the environment in addition to reducing chemical use.
According to Scott-Robinson, “by treating a living environment as if it were an industrial process, we fail to recognize its complexity.” “We must transform agriculture as soon as possible; otherwise, there will be nothing left to farm.”