WeLASER robot to kill weeds using a powerful laser

14-04 | Updated on 11-06 | | |
Photo: WeLaser project
Photo: WeLaser project

The EU-funded project WeLASER is developing an autonomous field robot that kills weeds using a powerful laser.

The WeLASER project is looking to “develop a non-chemical solution for weed management based on pioneering technology.” To achieve this, an autonomous robot is being developed by team from the Centre for Automation and Robotics, a joint center of the Spanish National Research Council (CSIC) and the Polytechnic University of Madrid (CAR-CSIC-UPM), reports Innovation Origins.

Kill weeds with a powerful laser

The robot will be equipped with AI and intelligent vision and will be capable of distinguishing weeds from crops. It then kills weeds using a powerful laser.

Pablo González de Santos, a member of CAR-CSIC-UPM and the project coordinator, told Innovations Origins that the autonomous robot is nothing more than a mobile platform to move the weedkiller system through the crop.

“This system is made up of a high-performance laser source, which is basically an extension of those used in the medical field. The laser ray that is generated is focused on the plant’s meristems long enough to burn these and within a short time also kill it off that way.”

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According to González de Santos the robot can be adapted to work for any kind of crop. The WeLASER’s project will initially focus on sugar beet as well as wheat and corn. - Photo: WeLASER project

According to González de Santos the robot can be adapted to work for any kind of crop. The WeLASER’s project will initially focus on sugar beet as well as wheat and corn. – Photo: WeLASER project

Prevent weeds from spreading

The meristems are sensitive parts of plants that allow them to grow. Consequently, focusing the laser on these spots will prevent weeds from spreading in agricultural crops where otherwise they would decrease the yield due to their ability to spread and their hardy persistence

“A precision scanner will be developed so that the laser beam can zero in on the meristems. The meristems’ positions will then be determined with the help of an intelligent vision system. This system takes photos of the crop. With the use of artificial intelligence techniques, it will identify the crop plants from the actual weeds, and, finally, the position of each weed’s meristem by using artificial intelligence methods,” González de Santos told Innovations Origins.

According to González de Santos the robot can be adapted to work for any kind of crop. The WeLASER’s project will initially focus on sugar beet as well as wheat and corn.

Robot CEOL designed by Agreenculture

The robot that is being used in this project was originally developed by French company Agreenculture. It is called CEOL and designed to work autonomously. According to Agreenculture its hybrid system reduces diesel consumption by 3 to 5 times in comparison to a conventional tractor. Equipped with tracks and lighter than a tractor, CEOL operates more frequently, maintaining the surface soil while saving fuel and preventing ruts.

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CEOL is equipped with a category 1 power lift allowing it to adapt to different attachments. It can carry or tow a range of equipment of different sizes and thus robotise a large part of the work carried out today with tractors. - Photo: Agreenculture

CEOL is equipped with a category 1 power lift allowing it to adapt to different attachments. It can carry or tow a range of equipment of different sizes and thus robotise a large part of the work carried out today with tractors. – Photo: Agreenculture

The guidance solution with GNSS RTK positioning, developed in-house by Agreenculture, offers automatic piloting with centimetric precision. CEOL is equipped with a category 1 power lift allowing it to adapt to different attachments. It can carry or tow a range of equipment of different sizes.

For these various reasons, Agreenculture says CEOL can operate over shorter time windows and in more difficult soil conditions when weeds are still at an early stage.

In 2018 Agreenculture took part in the Challenge Centeol project with equipment manufacturer Kuhn. The goal was to plant 50 ha of corn autonomously with the CEOL robot.

Efficiency

González de Santos told Innovations Origins that the robot will be capable of identifying at least 90% of weeds and meristems, have an accuracy of more or less 1.5 mm in area, and will irradiate 90% of the meristems detected, which will in turn destroy approximately 90% of the plants that have been irradiated. According to him, this means the efficiency of the complete system will therefore be around 65.61%.

Electric drivetrain

The robot prototype will initially be equipped with a diesel engine. In the next phase of the project, an electric drivetrain is to be developed.

During the next three years, the focus will be on creating the system further as a whole. The prototype will run on diesel to do this. After all of the hardware and software are completed, the second phase of the project will switch over the platform into 100% electric. Following this, the system should be completely sustainable and ready for commercialisation.

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This ingographic shows how the WeLASER system is to work in the future. - Source: WeLASER

This ingographic shows how the WeLASER system is to work in the future. – Source: WeLASER

WeLASER

WeLASER is a European innovation project funded within its ”Horizon 2020” program. It is coordinated by the Spanish Council for Scientific Research (CSIC) and has the participation of Futonics LASER (Germany), Laser Centrum Hannover (Germany), Department of Plants and Environmental Sciences of the University of Copenhagen (Denmark), AGREENCULTURE SaS (AGC ) (France), the Coordinator of Farmers and Livestock Organizations (COAG) (Spain), the Department of Agricultural Sciences of the University of Bologna (Italy), the Institute for the Ecology of Industrial Areas (Poland), the Department of Agricultural Economics of the University of Ghent (Belgium) and Van den Borne Projecten BV (VDBP) (The Netherlands). The WeLASER project started in 2020 and will end in 2023.

Claver
Hugo Claver Web editor for Future Farming