The Bosch Bonirob agricultural robot uses environment sensors and image recognition algorithms to automatically identify both healthy thriving plants and unwanted weeds.
I, for one, will welcome our new robotic weeding overlords.
Squatting between the rows and weeding around your plants can be an enjoyable activity, unless you're working a plot of ground larger than your backyard, in which case it can quickly become a tedious and back-breaking task. And if you're growing on a large scale, getting rid of the weeds while preserving the crops requires a tremendous amount of inputs, whether it's fuel for the tractors or herbicides to fill the sprayers.
But a new kind of agricultural robot could eventually relegate the tasks of weeding fields and analyzing plant growth to machines, which will
punch weeds in the face take care of those tedious details autonomously.
A startup from the German engineering and electronics company Bosch, called Deepfield Robotics, has built a smart robot that is packed full of the latest technology for exact positioning, image recognition, and machine learning software that may change the face of large-scale growing and plant breeding. Not only can this car-sized robot identify weeds quickly and efficiently, in order to target them with its 1 cm wide weeding rod (which rams the offending plants 3 cm under the soil, forgoing the need for an herbicide), but it can also analyze the crop plants for growth rates, fertilizer needs, and pest resistance, acting as a mobile plant lab to help speed up plant breeding programs.
The Bonirob is actually a modular platform, with the weed recognition module ("Robotic Ultra-Precise Weed Control") being just one of the options for mounting on it, and according to IEEE, can run for 24 hours without needing to refuel. The unit can be run autonomously or manually, and can thanks to GPS, -and lidar-based positioning features, can be accurately positioned "to the nearest centimeter."
One of the project's partners, agricultural machinery manufacturer Amazone, which helped to develop the Bonirob, refers to the modules as 'apps' that can be swapped out:
"In addition to the big challenge to build a practical field robot, initially a mechanical and electrical interface has to be created to allow access to most implements. In this way, the robot can be combined with different Apps, in the same way as a tractor can pull different mounted implements. And contrary to the tractor, here the Apps can completely control the behaviour of the robot to ensure that it acts as one unit."
Here's the Bonirob in action:
The Bonirob is said to be currently undergoing extensive field-testing on farms, after which the company intends to sell or rent the units to farmers looking to increase their production and decrease their labor costs.