Zapping Weeds with a High-Tech Farming Solution

Zapping Weeds with a High-Tech Farming Solution

Laser-wielding robots used to be the stuff of 1950s science fiction nightmares. But we’re now so deep into the 21st century that science fact is harnessing their pew-pew powers for good. Carbon Robotics, an agricultural robotics start-up based in Seattle, has recently sold out of this year’s model of their LaserWeeder—a smart farming machine with an onboard AI that identifies weeds as it’s towed over a field, then eliminates the weeds with a freaking laser. Potential to be cast as a Star Wars droid aside, the LaserWeeder is notable because one unit can cover two acres in one hour, zapping approximately 200,000 weeds. This speeds up one of the most onerous farming tasks, and helps mitigate the effects of farmhand staffing shortages.

The LaserWeeder is itself an adaptation of the AutonomousWeeder—a contraption that does the above, but also drives itself across the field it’s weeding. (This is where I’d  usually drop in something snarky about that ending well, but the AutonomousWeeder’s been doing its thing for over a year, with nary a sentience-achieving in sight.)

“‘We’ve proven the effectiveness of our laserweeding technology and the immense benefits it offers farmers, including healthier crops and soil, decreased herbicide use, and reduced chemical and labor costs,’ said Paul Mikesell, Carbon Robotics’ CEO and founder.

‘To best serve farmers’ needs, we’ve adapted the design of our product, but will still leverage our proven laserweeding technology,’ he continued. […]

While the cost isn’t listed on Carbon Robotics’ website, the company says that growers using the LaserWeeder are finding that it cuts their weeding costs by 80% and pays for itself in two to three years.”

The Laser- and AutonomousWeeders both seem to be solid entries in the robots-doing-things-humans-don’t-want-to category, much like a bomb disposal robot , or perhaps the robo-bussers at the Ameswell Hotel in Silicon Valley. I hope their labours, rather than forcing them to go rogue and kill all humans that oppress them, free up our collective brain-space to start reimagining industrial agriculture for our changing world. That would certainly make life better for all of us—robot and human!