A Thanksgiving Robot Harvest

The legend describes how the dutch pilgrims celebrated their first successful harvest in their promised land with their new native friends. This day was later commemorated by John Hanson, President of the United Colonies Continental Congress on March 16, 1776 as Thanksgiving. Yesterday, we were all gathered around bountiful harvests far removed from the farms and the supply-chain that brought us such delicacies. As mentioned in my previous posts, we are headed to a food crisis with the estimated population explosion of 9 billion people on the planet by 2050, which demands creative solutions to continue our annual Thanksgiving feasts.

The German company, Bosch, is not sitting still and has focused its R&D teams around robotic solutions to replace chemicals herbicides. Just this week Bosch announced its latest solution for weed control. Deepfield Robotics (a Bosch Company) has designed a multi-functional robotic weed-terminator called BoniRob. It features a camera and sensors that are trained to identify small weeds is using sophisticated computer vision software to activate a rod that stamps the weeds underground. So far, the bot can punch out 120 weeds per minute with an 80% accuracy.  That’s much better than grandma with a garden shovel!

“For weed treatment, that’s okay because the idea is to run multiple times over the field,” says general manager Amos Albert, general manager. “If it misses the weed one time, maybe next time it recognizes it.”

The robot (below), about the size of a compact car, is relatively small by design, according to Deepfield Robotics.


“Too heavy machines cause undesired soil compaction, and it is difficult to transport them on public roads,” they report. “Furthermore, when using heavy equipment, up to 90% of energy consumption is required for tilling tasks and to repair damages caused by the high soil compaction.”

Bosch has integrated BoniRob into its entire robotic platform. In addition, its four independently steerable drive wheels and the ability to adjust its trackwidth make BoniRob highly maneuverable. BoniRob can be run purely on batteries or connected to a generator to extend its range and usage time. BoniRob can be retrofitted and upgraded with exchangeable application modules (tools). BoniRob can navigate autonomously along plant rows (e.g. dams) in the field, carrying the application module (tool) as it goes.  Environmental sensors (e.g. Lidar), inertial sensors, wheel odometry and (optionally) GPS are mounted for row detection and navigation.

Bosch will conduct additional testing in 2016 before selling commercially, prompting me to wonder when will robots fully replace herbicides?

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