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Autonomous robot to zap individual weeds

RootWave and Small Robot Company are developing a weed zapping autonomous robot.

The robot is called ‘Dick’, and according to RootWave and Small Robot Company it’s the world’s first non-chemical precision robotic weeding for cereal crops.

Using electricity and artificial intelligence, the robot will zap individual weeds using RootWave weed zapping technology. Early field trials are due to commence in 2020.

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Commercial weed zapping service available from autumn 2021

Working together in partnership with British start up RootWave, Small Robot Company has successfully completed development of its ‘Dick’ non-chemical weeding robot prototype to in-lab proof of concept stage, Technology Readiness Level (TRL) 4.0. An initial prototype will go into field trials in 2020, with the commercial weed zapping service anticipated to be available from autumn 2021.

Zap individual weeds

“This is truly a world-first. For the first time, we can see each plant in the field – and every single weed. Instead of spraying the whole field, we can simply zap the individual weeds,” says Sam Watson-Jones, co-founder, Small Robot Company.

Also read: Small Robot Company launches planting robot

“Farmers are integral to the environmental solution. It’s crucial that we’re working on farm to develop our technology, to ensure it delivers real benefits in field. Together, we’re creating the ultimate sustainable farming model.”

Operate at farm-scale

Andrew Diprose, CEO, RootWave comments, “Our technology uses electricity to zap weeds with zero chemicals. Increased regulation, herbicide resistance, and consumer concerns are all intensifying the urgency to find an environmental solution. Partnering with Small Robot Company means we can automate our weed zapping to operate at farm-scale.

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Using artificial intelligence, the robot 'Dick' is able to recognise and treat weeds individually with electricity. - Photo: Rootwave
Using artificial intelligence, the robot 'Dick' is able to recognise and treat weeds individually with electricity. - Photo: Rootwave

Electricity to kill weeds

Rootwave uses electricity to kill weeds. Electricity is applied to a weed where the natural resistance of the weed transforms the electrical energy into heat which boils it inside out from the root upwards. This kills the weed after which the plant naturally decomposes, returning its nutrients to the soil. RootWave treats deep into the roots, making it possible to treat any weed, including tough invasive species such as Giant Hogweed and Japanese Knotweed.
RootWave says the technology is sustainable, no-till and cost comparable with herbicides. Automating this technology at scale is to bring significant cost savings for farmers.

Commercially available as a professional hand-weeder

RootWave’s technology is already commercially available as a professional hand-weeder designed for growers, gardeners and groundskeepers to spot weed and treat invasive species. This is in use in municipal, commercial and heritage sites, such as parks, football grounds and gardens, with customers including English Heritage, the Environment Agency, and the National Trust.

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Different crop types and weeding platforms

RootWave has won a £1million UK Government Innovate UK grant to scale its technology across different crop types and weeding platforms, including the Small Robot Company’s autonomous robots. The other major partner is SFM Technologies who are using RootWave technology to develop a tractor-pulled clearance weeder for fruit crops. These integrations will help enable electrical weed control technology to be adopted as a scalable and sustainable alternative to herbicides.

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