German company Dahlia Robotics has developed an autonomous robot that mechanically removes weeds. The Dahlia 3.3 is a high precision robot that is currently optimised for in-row weed removal in fields with sugar beets or salad.
The company emphasises there is a growing need for the reduction of pesticides. The European Union has announced it wants organic farming systems on 25% of farmland and a 50% reduction of chemical pesticides by 2030.
With the Dahlia 3.3, farmers can avoid using herbicides, without having to pay for expensive and time-consuming manual labour. Precision, speed and the ability to operate on drying soil conditions are the key advantages of its robot, says Dahlia Robotics.
The current throughput of the Dahlia 3.3 is 6.4 hectares for sugar beet in a single weeding season. Once night operation is implemented next year, the robot will reach 20 ha per robot per season. The robot will be able to be operate 24 hours per day in 2022, the company expects.
The Dahlia 3.3 has a lightweight aluminium body and processes three parallel rows at a time. At the end of the rows, the robot turns automatically. It supports row distances from 40 to 60 centimetres. The electric drive is emission free, with an operating time of over 8 hours. The robot has solar powered autonomous navigation.
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The Dahlia 3.3 can use two weeding tools that can easily be changed. The first tool is optimised for fast weeding with two V-shaped blades. The weeding speed with this tool is more than 30 centimetres per second. The second tool has precision drills that can weed as close as 3 millimetres to a crop plant.
According to Dahlia Robotics, the Power Core of the robot is the backbone of the weeding module. It powers and controls the tools on the ground. A GPU Core provides image processing, using artificial neural networks to tell crops from weeds. The real time optical weed recognition has an accuracy of 99%.
The robot can easily operated using a smartphone. Onboard camera images are live streamed to the phone of the operator. The lightweight robot can be loaded onto a small trailer in 2 minutes.
In the spring of 2022 Dahlia Robotics will test the Dahlia 3.3 on several farms. The company is still looking for farmers to join the tests. The company expects to release industrial grade robots by the end of 2022.
We will probably build 5 robots next year
CEO and co-founder Torsten Steiner of Dahlia Robotics said at the international agricultural robot event FIRA in Toulouse that the company is currently working out what the demand will be for the Dahlia 3.3 in 2022. “It looks pretty good” he said. “We will probably build 5 robots next year.”
Mr Steiner said there is quite some interest in using the Dahlia robot for other crops. “If other crops are commercially viable for us, there is nothing stopping us to from deploying the robot in those crops as well. We are communicating with farmers to see what crops they want to have supported.”
Eventually the robot is also expected to detect pests and diseases, a lack of nutrients, the stage of plant growth, damage from weather events and other information that can add value to the users.