Can these weed-killing robots change how we farm?

Developers say that their robots use up to 20 times less chemical herbicides than conventional farming today
weed-killing robots Weeding getting you down, humans? Turns out, there's a robot for that! (Jbrown777 | Dreamstime.com)


One of the most controversial topics in farming is the use of herbicides. These are chemicals that are sprayed on fields to kill the weeds that grow around crops. The idea is that less weeds means more crops, and therefore more 'yield', or food for everyone.

Sounds like the right idea, no?

Embed from Getty Images

A farmer sprays a broccoli field with herbicide. The inventors of robot weeders want to cut back on the amount of herbicide used to protect crops. (Getty Embed)

The problem, however, is that farmers currently spray their entire fields with these chemical to be sure that they can get as many weeds as possible. That's a lot of herbicide! Not only is this costly, it also is wasteful and often toxic. Excess herbicides can drain off the field and contaminate the water supply by either seeping into groundwater below or into nearby rivers and streams.

That's why several new types of smart weed-killing robots have us excited. Let's investigate.

Zeroing in on weeds

EcoRobotix is a Swiss company that has created an autonomous robot weeder. Here's how it works.

This solar-powered device moves slowly across the field. It uses cameras to scan for weeds sitting among the crops. When it spots one ... zap! It gives it a small but deadly blast of herbicide. Then it keeps on rolling, looking for more weeds to carefully blast out of existence.

Does it work? According to EcoRobotix, their device is 95 percent successful at killing weeds. And what's more, it uses up to 20 times less herbicide while doing this. You don't need to know much about how farming works to know that this could potentially save farmers a lot of money.

Watch a video about these weed-killing robots below.

Changing the landscape

As the video suggests, there's more than just the EcoRobotix bot out there waiting to change how farmers farm. One company, Blue River, is even owned by John Deere, one of the oldest heavy farming equipment companies in the world.

Of course, there are two sides to every story. While this can potentially mean big savings for farmers, it also means that the companies that make herbicides could be in a bit of trouble. They're worth about $100 billion US worldwide, a number that would go down a lot if farmers started using robot weeders like these. Still, it's hard not to like a device that saves farmers money while putting less chemicals into the soil.

Are we ready for a robot revolution in weeding? We're looking forward to finding out!


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