An Agricultural Weed Killing Robot That Doesn’t Use Chemicals

 

Robotics is bringing a ton of efficiency solutions to agriculture, but it’s especially inspiring to see developments that improve ecological as well as financial outcomes.

The German tech company Bosch is developing a range of integrated crop management systems that are focussed on sustainability. The star of the show is BoniRob; a multipurpose autonomous robot that gets rid of weeds without using chemicals.

 BoniRob, Bosch’s prototype crop management robot.  Photo credit: Bosch.

BoniRob, Bosch’s prototype crop management robot. Photo credit: Bosch.

BoniRob monitors crops in the field, checking soil moisture, fertilizer levels, and scanning for weed and pest infestations. It integrates with airborne drones and crop management software so farmers can keep track of what’s happening in their fields with new levels of detail.

BoniRob identifies weeds in a crop by the shape and color of their leaves. However, that in itself isn’t so special; plenty of agricultural robot prototypes can do that. The most innovative aspect of the BoniRob is its ability to destroy weeds without using toxic chemicals. Most comparable agricultural robotics systems are designed to spray pesticide, but BoniRob does the weeding the old fashioned way: mechanically.

When BoniRob identifies a weed, it extends a mechanical probe and precisely pulverizes it. Testing of the system is ongoing, but Bosch says they have achieved 90% effectiveness in trials with carrot crops.

This robot is equipped with some pretty neat AI, which allows it to learn from experience. BoniRob stores and shares data about the types of weeds it finds and their geographic distribution, cross referencing that information with all the other data it collects about soil moisture, weather, and fertilizer. This constant systematic analysis means that the robot becomes increasingly effective over time.

  Photo credit: Bosch.

Photo credit: Bosch.

BoniRob uses a wide range of technology including GPS, video, and lidar to interpret its environment. It’s even equipped with wifi. Bosch see BoniRob as part of a future robotic workforce, deployed in large numbers on big scale farming operations. The robots are intended to work cooperatively, communicating with each other in real time to develop a detailed picture of a crop so that they can automatically coordinate their efforts for maximum efficiency. A BoniRob workforce would detect events like insect outbreaks, or heavy rain and be able to respond appropriately with minimum human intervention.

  Photo credit: Bosch.

Photo credit: Bosch.

Bosch is designing the BoniRob system to be modular so that the robots can easily be equipped with specialized apparati for different tasks. Rather than needing one robot for planting, another for crop monitoring, and yet another for weeding, farmers can simply change out the analysis module for the weed killer unit and send the same robot back to work.

Agricultural efficiency is expected to be an increasingly urgent issue as the planet’s population continues to grow, so technology like BoniRob may well play an important role in meeting the world’s ever growing food needs.