This Little Robot Might Solve the World’s Big Pesticide Problem
Most commercial farmers spray their entire fields with pesticides, and count on their genetically modified crops to withstand the herbicide while harmful weeds do not. Those crops go on to become the groceries we buy in the store, and those herbicides are why it’s incredibly important to wash your food before you eat it.
Mass spraying is a practice that is widely used in the US and all over the world, and though the use of pesticides on our food is at the root of many diseases, it’s considered a necessary evil by the food industry to get rid of weeds that could otherwise destroy and impede plant development or choke out crops.
But one little Swiss robot is looking to change all of that.
At a glance, the EcoRobotix looks more like a folding card table on wheels than a robot, but this funny looking little guy is actually a powerful tool when it comes to developing eco-friendly farming practices. With a wide solar panel on top of its wheels to keep it running, the robot has two arms which reach down and cover weeds with a cup attachment before spraying a tiny amount of herbicide directly onto the weed. It uses GPS and camera technology to detect weeds and differentiate them from the crops it needs to protect, and can be controlled by smartphone when a farmer wants to direct it to a different part of the field.
EcoRobotix, the Swiss company that developed the robot, says that their product can not only operate autonomously, but can do so for up to 12 hours a day on solar power alone, covering up to 7.5 acres each day. With its precise application of herbicide only to weeds and not to the crops themselves, the EcoRobotix robot is more than just a cute Roomba for farmers’ fields — it can drastically cut the amount of herbicide used down to as little as 5% of what current farming practices use. This means that not only will farmers save loads of money on herbicide each year, they will also be able to keep those pesticides out of the food you eat.
The Herbicide Industry
At present, huge corporations like Bayer, Monsanto (recently acquired by Bayer), and BASF make a lot of money selling herbicides to farmers. $26 billion globally, in fact. The wide use of herbicides means that 90% of seeds produced for commercial use have been genetically modified to be resistant to chemicals.
But although the implementation of technology like EcoRobotix’s weed spraying robot carries the potential to substantially hurt the herbicide industry, big corporations say they aren’t bothered by it. In fact, Bayer recently teamed up with German company Robert Bosch to develop more sustainable farming practices, and BASF, one of the world’s largest chemical producers, including of herbicides, just helped fund $11 million for EcoRobotix to continue developing their weed spraying robot.
The Future of Farming
EcoRobotix is not the only technology to use the method of targeted pesticide control. Blue River, owned by John Deere, has developed a tractor-towed “See & Spray” machine, which uses on-board cameras to detect weeds and only spray pesticides where it’s needed. Other companies, like AgroIntelli in Denmark and Robert Bosch in Germany, are also hard at work on developing sustainable farming technology for planting, weeding, and other agricultural tasks. Many of them, like EcoRobotix and BASF, have teamed up with agricultural corporations to develop their technology.
These corporations see the ways that robotics can help advance the farming industry, and instead of holding on herbicides, they are embracing the future — as well as the inevitable profit that will come with it, of course.
Right now, EcoRobotix’s robot works only on beets and canola, but the company says they hope to expand the technology to other crops very soon. The robot is expected to be available on the market as early as 2019.