It sounds like something out of a science fiction novel. Developers use killer robots that blow up their victims with 8,000 volts. There is a crackle, a cloud of smoke, and then the target is dead. In this case, this invention is heralded to promote sustainable agriculture by reducing pesticide use and promoting soil health.
Bringing artificial intelligence and killer robots into agriculture
The Small robot company (SRC) is an agricultural technology startup bringing artificial intelligence to agriculture. Ben Scott-Robinson, CEO of SRC, believes agriculture will change radically and become unrecognizable over the next two decades. His vision embodies weed control without the use of chemicals with agility and precision.
SRC develops a team of robots for use in farms. “Tom” (seen above) fulfills a role in weed mapping and can monitor 50 acres of plants daily. With LED lights, Tom and his family of killer robots can even work at night while the farmers sleep. “Wilma” is the brain of the operation and processes Tom’s data. She examines the health of each plant and then gives “Dick” commands. Then he kills weeds by zapping them instead of relying on herbicides. SRC only introduced Tom to the UK marketand Dick will begin field trials in October.
Using RootWave technology to zap weeds
Both Tom and Dick use an autonomous electronic platform powered by a Tesla battery. Dick uses weed zapping technology from RootWaveThe company was named one of the UK’s Most Disruptive Companies in 2019. The UK government has received grants to develop next generation products. RootWave released that too RootWave Pro, a professional handweeder and tractor weed product for orchards.
RootWave technology zaps weeds by generating heat directly and boiling the plant from the inside. It leaves weeds in place where they naturally decompose. This no-till approach helps build soils, prevent erosion and lock up carbon. The same technology can also help eliminate stubborn invasive plants that can overtake native plants.
Improving soil health and pollinator habitat
“The way we farm is changing,” said Scott-Robinson in an interview with the Guardian. “It’s not just about producing large amounts of food. It’s also about taking care of what happens in the field. “Artificial intelligence can gather information about soil health and pollinator distribution, enabling a radically different approach to agriculture.
Now SRC is exploring the concept of weed detection as not all weeds are harmful to plants. Some are essential feeds for pollinators while others can help provide nitrogen. SRC is also researching how soil health and biodiversity can be analyzed using a microphone to collect data on bird songs and other pollinators.
Avoiding the use of harmful pesticides
Unfortunately, studies show that 95 percent of the herbicides do not reach their target pests and they often end up in waterways. Herbicide resistant weeds are a growing problem for many farmers, but they can be difficult to identify. Prevention strategies include reducing pesticide use, crop rotation and mechanical weed control methods. Numerous pesticides are suspected or known to be carcinogenic. Unfortunately, many farm workers in developing countries are poisoned by pesticides every year. Depending on the source cited, up to 20,000 deaths are attributed to these chemicals annually. Hence there is an opening for these killer robots.
“The dream double result for agriculture is to sustainably increase yields. For at least two decades, farmers have sought to increase yields while reducing environmental damage, ”said Sam Watson Jones, President and Co-Founder of Small Robot Company. in a press release. “But weed pollution requires treatment – and unfortunately we currently have an agricultural system that requires a blanket approach.”
Robots designed specifically for agriculture already exist, but overall they are new to the market. EcoRobotics uses robotics to drastically reduce pesticide use with a robot that uses artificial vision. Vitibot has an electric vineyard robot that does mechanical weeding, spraying and stripping. Naïo Technologies has produced three models of weed and hoe in various applications including vineyards and large vegetable farms.
“How quickly farmers adopt robots has yet to be answered,” said Andrew Diprose, CEO of RootWave, in an interview with the Guardian. “We have a solution that allows you to weed your fields without chemicals, carbon emissions, tillage and eventually without an operator. It really is the future and it will take us some time to get there. But we will do it. “
Photo credit: Small Robot Company