UI Researchers Experimenting On Weeding Robot
Researchers at the University of Idaho’s are working with a Kirkland, WA-based company to develop a robot that can weed farmland. Jae Hyeon Ryu, an associate professor with U of I’s Department of Soil and Water Systems, said the robot was conceptualized to help farmers combat a dwindling workforce of humans.
"Farmers are really concerned about the labor shortage these days, because many people are looking for better-paying jobs in a better environment. So, we started thinking about developing an autonomous ground robot to kill weeds using electricity.”
The wheeled robot is solar powered and is about the size of a shopping cart. It’s designed to roll between the rows of a field before the canopies of its crop close – emitting an electric shock to eradicate larger weeds while pulling smaller ones with an attached arm. Ryu said making the robot easy for farmers to use has been a critical focus of the design phase.
“It’s a very simple platform. It’s easy to carry and easy to deploy with just two people. It’s very handy and versatile and a regular farmer can easily use it on their farmland.”
In addition to its primary weed-killing abilities, Ryu also envisions the robot being used for diagnostic applications.
“We also plan to attach a thermal sensor or vision sensors to characterize crop problems. The sensors can pinpoint what kind of symptoms crops are suffering from. So, if we attach this sensor to the ground robot, perhaps the robot can tell us a lot of the story.”
The robot could also prove beneficial for the environment, since its use would almost certainly lessen the number of chemical agents that farmers are currently applying to their crops. Ryu said the robot has been put through its testing paces since last summer and may be ready to begin working in the field full time by next year.
“Basically, we have to train the machine to eventually kill the weeds. Over last summer, we spent a lot of time collecting data in sugar beet and onion fields, and at a potato farm. This fall, we’ll develop an algorithm to eventually deploy this ground robot. Hopefully, we’ll be able to demonstrate its weed killing in action in on the farm next summer.”
It’s still unknown how much the robot will cost to manufacture or what its retail price tag might be.
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