AI Case Study

ecoRobotix aims to reduce the amount of herbicide farmers use by 20 times with robotics and machine vision

ecoRobotix has built an 100% autonomous solar powered robot weeder, that can work for up to 12 hours without requiring a human operator. With its camera, GPS RTK and sensors it is capable of following crop rows and then target and spray individual weeds using machine vision and its two robotic arms. The Swiss startup believes its design could lead to a reduction of herbicide used by farmers by 20 times.

Industry

Basic Materials

Agriculture

Project Overview

As reported on the technologyreview, in the future, "robots like the one created by ecoRobotix will be able to roll through fields, using computer vision to target and spray individual weeds as they go. EcoRobotix claims its robo-brigade will decrease total herbicide use by a factor of 20. You might even be able to get a smaller Roomba-esque version for your home garden.

The use of these weed killers isn’t far off. John Deere got in on the tech last year, acquiring the precision spraying startup Blue River, meaning its tractors could be outfitted with weed targeters very soon. Large agrochemical companies are desperately trying to acquire businesses working on similar technologies, in preparation for a decline in demand for their chemicals.

According to Reuters, "the company said it is close to signing a financing round with investors and is due to go on the market by early 2019.
The prototype of an autonomous weeding machine by Swiss start-up ecoRobotix was tested in a field of sugar beet in Switzerland in May 18, 2018. With its cameras, it identifies weeds and zaps them with jets of blue liquid from its mechanical tentacles."

According to the company's website: "The robot works without being controlled by a human operator. It covers the ground just by getting its bearings and positioning itself with the help of its camera, GPS RTK and sensors. Its system of vision enables it to follow crop rows, and to detect the presence and position of weeds in and between the rows. Two robotic arms then apply a microdose of herbicide, systematically targeting the weeds that have been detected."

Reported Results

ecoRobotix "believes its design could reduce the amount of herbicide farmers use by 20 times" (Reuters). They further claim the following results (Ecorobotix):

* 20x less herbicide application
* Up to 30% less expensive than standard treatments
* Improved yield; no herbicide left on the crops
* Conserved the organic life of the soil, with limited soil compaction

Technology

The robot is 100% autonomous and uses a "camera and artificial vision for steering and detection" (ecoRobotix).

Function

Operations

General Operations

Background

"Current farming methods involve spraying large amounts of indiscriminate weed killer over fields full of crops that have been genetically tweaked (usually by the same company that makes the weed killer) to resist the chemicals. The pesticide and seed industry is enormous, worth $100 billion globally. Of that, herbicide sales alone account for $26 billion." (technologyreview)

Benefits

Data

Data (images) from camera, GPS RTK and sensors.