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StarWars on crops rows

The autonomous robot roaming the field to spot and kill weeds using a laser beam. Image credit: Carbon Robotics

Carbon Robotics is a start up focussing on what I would consider as a niche (although it is actually a very large niche): weeding. They developed an autonomous robot equipped with 12 HiRes cameras and AI software to detect weeds. Once detected a laser beam strikes, zaps, the weed without affecting the crop. To appreciate how effective it is take a look at the clip (and appreciate the StarWars like soundtrack…).

It is no small feat, it would have been impossible just 20 years ago and 10 years ago the cost for such a machine would have been staggering. Detecting weeds, particularly when they are just sprouting, it’s difficult even for the human eye. You need to tell the difference between the crop and the weed at a time when the difference is minimal.  The identification has to be done in presence of wind, moving the leaves, and as the robot is moving over the rows of crops.

So far industrial agriculture has been using pesticides to get rid of weeds (handmade weeding has just become impossible in industrial agriculture). Some 127,000 tons of glyphosate, a herbicide, are used every year in the US and genetic engineering has been used to make crops resisting to herbicide. Unfortunately, weeds are also evolving to become resistant to herbicide in a never ending race for survival.

The use of laser weeding changes the rules of the game, another area where artificial intelligence is making a difference.

About Roberto Saracco

Roberto Saracco fell in love with technology and its implications long time ago. His background is in math and computer science. Until April 2017 he led the EIT Digital Italian Node and then was head of the Industrial Doctoral School of EIT Digital up to September 2018. Previously, up to December 2011 he was the Director of the Telecom Italia Future Centre in Venice, looking at the interplay of technology evolution, economics and society. At the turn of the century he led a World Bank-Infodev project to stimulate entrepreneurship in Latin America. He is a senior member of IEEE where he leads the Industry Advisory Board within the Future Directions Committee and co-chairs the Digital Reality Initiative. He teaches a Master course on Technology Forecasting and Market impact at the University of Trento. He has published over 100 papers in journals and magazines and 14 books.