Robot farm workers take to the field

Aarhus University
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HortiBot, a weed-removing robot

According to the Ludington Daily News, Michigan, Danish agricultural engineers have built a robot to help farmers with weeds. The Hortibot is about 3-foot-by-3-foot, is self-propelled, and uses global positioning system (GPS). It can recognize 25 different kinds of weeds and eliminate them by using its weed-removing attachments. It's also very environmentally friendly because it can reduce herbicide usage by 75 percent. But so far, it's only a prototype and the Danish engineers need to find a manufacturer for distribution.

You can see above an illustration showing how the synergy obtained by combining the commercial remote controlled robot named Spider with the autonomous AgRobot research platform from Aarhus University, Denmark. On the right, you can see the Spider mounted with the HortiBot accessory kit, which transforms it into a tool carrier for high-tech weeding. (Credit: HortiBot project)

The HortiBot project has been coordinated at Aarhus University by Rasmus Nyholm Jørgensen, a scientist at the Department of Agricultural Engineering who works on sensor and robot technologies.

Here are some more details from the Ludington Daily News about the HortiBot. "Currently, the robot can identify approximately 25 different kinds of weeds and is equipped with a computer and GPS to find the exact location of the weeds and the plants themselves. Depending on the needs of the farmer and the kind of vegetable crop, Hortibot has a variety of weed-removing attachments and methods. It can manually pick weeds, spray, or remove them using flames or a laser."

As I mentioned above, the HortiBot will be eco-friendly, because it will spray exactly above the weeds, and also because it's light -- between 200 and 300 kilograms -- so it will not hurt the soil behind it. It will also be cheaper than the tools currently used for weed-elimination. First because it could work during extended periods of time. And secondly because it should not cost more than US$70K.

This robot has been presented at the 2006 ASABE (American Society of Agricultural and Biological Engineers) Annual International Meeting held on July 9-12, 2006. It was the subjects of 4 papers published under the name "Hortibot: An Accessory Kit Transforming a Slope Mower into a Robotic Tool Carrier for High-Tech Plant Nursing." Here is a link to the abstract of Part I.

You'll see that the HortiBot is fully compliant with EU directives about traceability. "Danish organic outdoor gardeners today use 50-300 hours per hectare for manual weeding. Through automatic controlling of an existing commercial machine this often heavy and cost-consuming weeding will be eliminated. At the same time, a fully-automatic registration of field activities will contribute to the efficient implementation of EU directive 178/2002 concerning traceability in the primary production and thereby enhance the food-safety in the production chain."

And here is how the HortiBot will work. "The HortiBot is capable of passing over several parcels with visible rows autonomously based on a with a new commercial row detection system from Eco-Dan a/s with minimum use of Global Positioning Systems (GPS). Further unskilled workers will be able to operate the basic functions of the HortiBot within one hour of training and by using a pictogram as an operational guide. Traceability in the Hortibot will be available online and in real time since all operational data will automatically be sent to an internet based database."

Jørgensen, the coordinator of the project, says the HortiBot is ready to be commercialized and is looking for a manufacturer to start production. So, if you're a farmer, you'll probably have to wait a couple of years to buy one of this friendly robots.

Sources: Kristin Morin, Ludington Daily News, Michigan, July 3, 2007; and various websites

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Robot farm workers take to the field