A Robot Is Killing Weeds By Zapping Them With Electricity

Online IT Certificate Courses A robot is killing weeds by zapping them with electricity. 

A robot is killing weeds by zapping them with electricity

Three robots have been assigned a mission in an English field: to locate and zap weeds with electricity prior to planting seeds in the cleared soil.

The robots, dubbed Tom, Dick, and Harry, were developed by Small Robot Company to eliminate weeds without the use of chemicals or heavy machinery.

Since 2017, the startup has been developing autonomous weed killers and launched Tom, its first commercial robot, in April. Tom is now operational on three UK farms. The remaining robots are in the prototype stage and are undergoing testing.

Small Robot declares himself a robot. Tom can scan up to 20 hectares (49 acres) per day, collecting data that is then used to zap weeds by Dick, a "crop-care" robot. Then Harry, the robot, will plant seeds in the weed-free soil.

Once the system is fully operational, farmers could save up to 40% on costs and up to 95% on chemical usage, the company claims.

According to the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization, global trade in pesticides totaled six million metric tons in 2018, valued at $38 billion.

"Our system enables farmers to wean their depleted, damaged soils from a chemical-based diet," says Ben Scott-Robinson, co-founder and CEO of Small Robot. 



Zapping weeds 

According to Small Robot, it has raised more than £7 million ($9.9 million). Scott-Robinson says the company hopes to launch its full robot system by 2023, at a cost of around £400 ($568) per hectare. The monitoring robot is initially installed on a farm, and the weeding and planting robots are delivered only when data indicates they are required

Small Robot partnered with another UK-based startup, RootWave, to develop the zapping technology.

"It generates a current that travels through the plant's roots, through the soil, and then back up, completely destroying the weed," Scott-Robinson explains. "We can target and eradicate each individual plant that poses a threat to the crop plants."

"It's not as quick as spraying the entire field," he explains. "However, keep in mind that we only need to enter the areas of the field where the weeds are." Plants that are neutral to the crops or beneficial to them are left alone.

Small Robot refers to this as "per plant farming" — a method of precise agriculture in which each plant is tracked and accounted for.


A business case

Efficiency remains a barrier for Kit Franklin, an agricultural engineering lecturer at Harper Adams University.

"I have no doubt that the electrical system operates properly," he tells CNN Business. "However, a large-scale sprayer can cover hundreds of hectares per day... If we are to pursue this extremely precise weed killing system, we must accept that there will be an output reduction that will be extremely difficult to overcome."

Franklin, on the other hand, believes farmers will adopt the technology if they see a business case for it.

"There is an acceptance that farming in an environmentally friendly manner is also a method of farming efficiently," he explains. "Using fewer inputs where and when they are needed will save us money and will benefit the environment and farmers' perceptions."

Along with reducing chemical use, Small Robot wishes to improve the soil's quality and biodiversity.

"By treating a living environment as an industrial process, we overlook its complexity," Scott-Robinson explains. "We must transform agriculture immediately; otherwise, there will be nothing to farm."


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