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Odd.Bot robot takes on herbicide free weed elimination

Identifying weeds autonomously, eliminating them without the use of herbicides and without human interference. That is the challenge set for the small Odd.Bot team. They started in September this year and recently showed their first prototype.

It was the ESMERA-project that triggered founders Martijn Lukaart and Alex Brussee to initiate their Odd.Bot project. ESMERA stands for ‘European Small and Medium Enterprise Robotics Applications’ and the project offers funding to SME companies like Odd.Bot to develop robotic solutions for applications that cannot be served by existing robotics solutions.

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The Odd.Bot team
The Odd.Bot team

First prototype

Just 2 months after getting started, the company managed to show its first prototype at the AgriFoodTech trade fair in the Netherlands recently. “A very early stage prototype though that was put together to gather ideas as well as the interest of farmers wanting to test the robot but also to attract possible funding partners,” says Lukaart. Designed to eliminate weeds in the row crops carrots, cabbage and leek with a 50 cm row distance at first. Odd.Bot’s 'Weed Whacker’ is a three wheeled robot having its front wheels 1.0 m apart with its back wheel right in between. The battery powered robot has this ‘tripod configuration’ to offer more stability as well as an improved efficiency for the robotic delta arm to move around and it enables the robot to make quick turns on head lands. The battery power is designed to let the Weed Whacker work for 3 to 4 hours before it returns to the charging stations, just like a robotic lawn mower.

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The first Odd.Bot weeding robot prototype at the AgriFoodTech trade fair in The Netherlands recently. Photo:Odd.Bot
The first Odd.Bot weeding robot prototype at the AgriFoodTech trade fair in The Netherlands recently. Photo:Odd.Bot

Milling weeds

Weed Whacker navigates using advanced gps and video processing that detect the rows of crops and follow them along. When arriving at the head land, it turns by using the two-wheel differential steering and the relatively small size allows tight turn rather easily. The robot aims at eliminating the weeds in the row, so between the row crop plants. Currently the weed detection is done based on the approximate distance between the row crop plants and the possibility of weed plants in between them. In future, the weed plants will be detected using image recognition and AI / machine learning technology.

One of the requirements of the ESMERA-project is durable / environmental / non-chemical applications and therefore the Weed Whacker is equipped with a sort of retractable blender attached to its delta arm to mill weeds down to their roots.

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Weed Whacker is equipped with a sort of retractable blender attached to its delta arms to mill weeds down to their roots. Photo:Odd.Bot
Weed Whacker is equipped with a sort of retractable blender attached to its delta arms to mill weeds down to their roots. Photo:Odd.Bot

Robots as a service

The first real trials with the Odd.Bot weeding robot are planned for early next year and by May 2019, Lukaart hopes to have the first prototypes out in the fields of interested farmers. Once ready to market, he plans on offering the robotic weed removal as a ‘Robot-as-a-Service’-model to farmers, to free them from any burden or hesitation to try it. The start-up plans to also bring along its own mobile charging stations to which the robots can charge autonomously as well. Other ideas include robot swarms and robots to monitor crops and identify diseases and other threats.