This robot that kills 120 weeds per minute could revolutionise food production

RobBosch/Deepfield RoboticsThe weed-killing BoniRob.

Weeds are no match for this robot.

Bosch, a German company best known for blenders and power drills, invented a robot that can kill weeds faster than any human or herbicide. Called the BoniRob, it roams through fields and finds weeds, stomping out two per second with a 1-centimeter-wide drill.

According to Bosch’s estimates, farmers need to produce 3% more crops per year to keep up with global population growth. The robot could protect these plants and make plant breeding more efficient. It could also reduce the use of herbicides in farms, which are linked to cancer.

The Prius-sized robot uses lasers and satellite positioning to move around. It knows its location up to the centimeter. Bosch is only testing it on farms right now, but intends to sell or rent models out to farmers.

Farmers usually control weeds by mowing them, through chemical use, or a combination of the two. Mechanical weeders can disturb the soil and damage crop roots, but the BoniRob destroys only the weeds.

The robot doesn’t just sense weeds, but all kinds of plants. Normally, plant scientists manually study thousands of plant types, recording the size and colour of their leaves, the shape of fruits, and insect infestation. Based on their research, they can learn how to grow plants more efficiently. This process can take up to 10 years.

The BoniRob uses algorithms to do the same job instantly.

“This automatic screening saves a lot of time and effort,” says Amos Albert, manager of Deepfield Robotics, the division within Bosch that created the BoniRob.

Combined photoWikipedia CommonsChamomile and carrot leaves respectively.

There are any number of different plants out there, which poses a challenge for the robot’s recognition software. Carrot and chamomile leaves, for example, look pretty similar.

Like any smart robot, the BoniRob will learn from itself, Albert says. The Bosch researchers highlight images of weeds in a huge image database so that the robot will recognise more types of plants over time.

Weeds, say hello to your little friend.

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