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Attack of the Killer Robots

Date: 12/28/2015 12:00:00 AM
As we become more educated about what goes into our food, we have very healthy fears about what farmers are adding to the soil. At present we can’t do much about pesticides, unless you look at GMO, but now farmers can do something about one of their other nuisances: weeds.
BoniRob, developed by German engineering company Bosch, is a weeding killing robot. Unfortunately for us it doesn’t use lasers, but it does have some serious pounding action which quickly obliterates the offending plants 3 centimeters into the ground.
By working with the German food and agriculture department, Osnabrück University, and Amazone(an agricultural machinery manufacturer), Bosch’s Deepfield Robotics division have developed an intelligent four-wheel drive vehicle which uses laser guiding and GPS to navigate along the furrows of a field. To ensure that it destroys weeds and not plants (I wish I could do that), BoniRob is shown the leaves of weeds and crops and it makes decisions on which objects to hit with its 1 cm (0.4 inches) wide hammer. Since intelligent learning systems improve with the amount of data they have, BonniRob’s accuracy will improve over time and by networking the machines it’s possible that they would be able to share their data with other robots in the area and recognize plants that the individual unit hasn’t seen before.
Although it looks like a research project, BoniRob is a working, on sale model and, according to IEEE Spectrum, is being tested on a real carrot crop, “which has carrots spaced about 2 cm apart and an average of 20 weeds per meter growing very close to the carrots themselves, the robot had no trouble at all. The maximum capability of the system is about 1.75 weeds per second at a speed of 3.7 cm/s and a weed density of 43 weeds per meter, but at lower weed densities, the speed can be cranked up to 9 cm/s.”
Farming is a very labor intensive industry and picking weeds and collecting crops would all benefit from automation. The new agrobot is a strawberry picking machine and takes the back ache out of continuously bending over and examining under the leaves and gently picking the ripest fruit. The next step will be to have self-driving trucks which will collect the picked and packaged produce and deliver them straight to the shops without a human in sight.