Since a couple of years, a clear trend is noticeable when it comes to weeding tools. They’re upgraded with cameras and AI to smart self-thinking tools with shares, tines, spray nozzles and even lasers. An overview.
The availability of affordable sophisticated cameras has led to an enormous uptake of AI supported weeding tools. Especially in relation with autonomous rovers and field robots. While these robots still have to earn farmers’ confidence and trust, an increasing number of startups and manufacturers fit their technology to 3-point linkage systems to increase adoption and sales.
They’re mostly American startups without a background or prior experience in weeding. Some have nonetheless managed to achieve an astounding brand awareness in a very short period of time. Such as Carbon Robotics (American), Ecorobotix (Swiss), FarmWise and Stout (both American). The first three pioneered with field robots for detecting weeds between and in crop rows to eliminate those weeds individually based on artificial intelligence (AI) and machine learning. With shares, spray nozzles and even laser. Since recently, Carbon Robotics offers their LaserWeeder implement commercially and so does FarmWise with its Vulcan mechanical weeder. Ecorobotix has been offering their Ara spraying implement for a couple of years now.
Stout was founded in 2019 and started marketing their Smart Cultivator in-row weeding implement in 2020. Verdant Robotics (also American) is offering the Spraybox and Latvian company WeedBot plans to introduce their Lumina weeder next year. A hoeing machine ‘veteran’ offering AI supported 3-point linkage systems for selective weeding is Dutch Steketee. Their technology detects plants instead of weeds.
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While the overview of 3-point linkage systems below does not pretend to be complete, it gives a good insight in what technology is already available for selective weeding and for tackling volunteer plants in arable crops, market gardening and vegetables. AI supported weeding however is not reserved to cropping. 3-point linkage initiatives for other sectors and crops include the Dutch WeedAway for dandelions and plantain in sports fields and pastures and German RumboJet for selective treatment of docks (Rumex) in pastures. For the Ecorobotix Ara there’s also an algorithm available for detecting docks. American Mantis Ag Technology on the other hand, uses AI on their Smart Sprayer to detect plants to spray each of them individually.
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Currently there’s a remarkable increase of interest in laser technology for weeding. Both blue and CO2-lasers are used for this purpose. Carbon Robotics relies solely on it and so does WeedBot. Verdant Robotics say they are developing a laser weeding tool. Laser beams don’t disturb the soil, can eliminate weeds very close to plants and don’t use any chemicals. The beams can however mirror in metal, stones and shells and become a hazard for animals and people in the surroundings. Protective measurements are therefore required. Apart from laser, also heat (Andela, Dutch) and concentrated light (Earth Rover, Spanish) are examples of other technologies put to use for weeding.
Stout unfortunately didn’t respond to our requests for information. The details of their Smart Cultivator have therefore been sourced online.