AI Helps Farmers Kill Weeds
By: Samuel Lin
The bright sun radiates warmth, and the birds sing the song of spring. A gargantuan tractor rumbles over the lush green soybean plantation, the green plants extending out to the horizon. Suddenly, the tractor extends its folded arms straight, like a majestic bird opening its wings, prepared for liftoff. Its camera sniffs out the weeds with hawks’-eye precision, spraying herbicides onto the weeds.
John Deere has launched its new machine, See & Spray Ultimate, that uses AI to sense weeds and spray herbicides. Other companies such as BOSCH BASF and Carbon Robotics have caught up to the AI trend and created similar weeding machines.
The See & Spray Ultimate is a tractor with two large arms, more formally known as booms, extending on both sides. Each boom is loaded with herbicide sprayers to kill weeds, and 18 cameras to sense the ground below. Using AI and a collection of 300,000 pictures of weeds, the machine uses the cameras to distinguish between pesky weeds and crops. Then See & Spray Ultimate sprays the herbicides solely on the weeds, and not the crops.
There are numerous benefits to this method of weeding. There is no need for laborers to hand pick the weeds, which requires more time and money to pay the laborers. These robots could fill in the gaps of the labor worker shortage, where farmers are struggling to find workers to pick weeds and crops. Also, since the pesticide is applied only to weeds and not to all plants, it reduces the number of pesticides the farmers have to use.
See and Spray Ultimate can “reduce non-residual herbicide use by more than two-thirds,” according to John Deere Public Relations Manager Franklin Peitz.
The lessened herbicide use has benefits for the environment. When wind and water carry the herbicide elsewhere, the herbicide can contaminate drinking water, poison fish, and pollute the air. Herbicides also degrade the soil.
BOSCH BASF has taken a similar route with its “Smart Spraying solution”, which is almost identical to the See and Spray Ultimate. However, See and Spray Ultimate is only available in the US, while the Smart Spraying Solution has been used in Germany, the Netherlands, and Brazil
Carbon Robotics has taken a different approach using AI to exterminate weeds. They have created the Laser Weeder, which uses a high-energy laser to burn the weeds. Similar to See and Spray Ultimate, the Laser Weeder uses cameras and AI to determine weeds among the crops.
Using the Laser Weeder does not harm the environment or the soil because it doesn’t use pesticides. The Laser Weeder will “cut annual weed control costs by 80%” according to Carbon Robotic’s website, and in one to three years, the savings created by the Laser Weeder, such as not paying for herbicides, will offset the cost of the Laser Weeder.
“We’ve proven the effectiveness of our laser weeding 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, the founder of Carbon Robotics.