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Bud’, from Carbon Robotics

Robot lasers weeds from the fields without herbicide

Seattle autonomous robotics company Carbon Robotics aims to confront the multi-billion dollar global herbicide market with its laser-armed weed elimination robot. The machine, named “Bud”, rolls through farm fields using artificial intelligence to discern weeds from crops and using a high-power laser to kill the weeds. This will enable farmers to cultivate crops with less herbicide and reduced labor, improving crop yields and saving money.

https://www.youtube.com/embed/AP0yiOI8Qas

Bud’s robot brain is an Nvidia AI processor that gathers information from a dozen high-resolution cameras to feed its crop and weed computer vision models. Bud carries lighting so that it can illuminate the scene to let the cameras spot weeds at night.

Source: designnews.com

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Robot delivers ‘world-first’ season free of powdery mildew sprays

16 December 2021 | by FarmingUK Team | Farm ProductsMachinery and EquipmentNewsProduceThorvald performs light treatment to control mildew on strawberries, reducing the need for fungicidesThorvald performs light treatment to control mildew on strawberries, reducing the need for fungicides    

An autonomous robot which reduces powdery mildew through light treatment achieved complete control of the pathogen during this growing season.

‘Thorvald’ delivered UV-C treatment to protect strawberry plants on over 10 hectares of land at Clock House Farm and Hugh Lowe Farm, both in Kent.

The robot performs light treatment to control mildew on strawberries and vines, drastically reducing the need for fungicides.

During March to October, the farms did not spray their crops with any powdery-mildew-targeting chemical control agent, with Thorvald’s team calling this a ‘world-first’.

The autonomous robot was developed by Saga Robotics and has been on trial in the UK since 2019.

But 2021 has proven to be a watershed year due to an especially prevalent pathogen. Despite this, plant samples were examined having no traces of the fungal disease.

Oli Pascall, managing director at Clock House Farm, described the work undertaken by Thorvald as an ‘industry leading result’.The autonomous robot was developed by Saga Robotics and has been on trial in the UK since 2019The autonomous robot was developed by Saga Robotics and has been on trial in the UK since 2019

“The first three robots that Saga Robotics used to treat crops delivered positive results in 2020, although there was evidence that we needed a stronger intensity of UV-C.

“This has been addressed with a positive outcome, and the improved results seen in 2021 are of an outstanding level of protection.”

Pål Johan, CEO of Saga Robotics, said this year’s results had only increased what was already a strong interest in their service.

“Throughout the season, our robots have efficiently treated over 7,300 linear kilometres of strawberries with completely effective treatment, 100% robot service reliability and no failures.”

Dan Sargent, head of plant sciences at Saga added: “Not a single chemical has been needed to protect these plants from powdery mildew all season.

“And that’s great news for the growers, their customers, and the consumers.”

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Laser-Armed Robot Terminates Weeds Without Herbicide

Design News

Carbon RoboticsCarbon Robotics machine.jpgCarbon Robotics autonomous weeder, “Bud.”Carbon Robotics robots fry weeds with lasers instead of chemicals.

Dan Carney | Dec 13, 2021

The global herbicide market was $33.65 billion in 2020, according to ResearchandMarkets.com, but Carbon Robotics, an autonomous robotics company, aims to put a dent in that with an autonomous laser-armed weed elimination robot.

Like “The Terminator” for weeds, the Carbon Robotics machine, dubbed “Bud,” rolls through farm fields using artificial intelligence to discern weeds from crops and using a high-power laser to kill the weeds. This lets farmers cultivate crops with less herbicide and reduced labor, improving crop yields and saving money.https://www.youtube.com/embed/AP0yiOI8Qas

Related: How to Build a Better Planting Operation

“AI and deep learning technology are creating efficiencies across a variety of industries and we’re excited to apply it to agriculture,” said Carbon Robotics CEO and Founder, Paul Mikesell. “Farmers, and others in the global food supply chain, are innovating now more than ever to keep the world fed. Our goal at Carbon Robotics is to create tools that address their most challenging problems, including weed management and elimination.”

Carbon Robotics cites these benefits for farmers deploying its robots:  

  • A significant increase in crop yield and quality: Lasers leave the soil microbiology undisturbed, unlike tillage. The lack of herbicides and soil disruption paves the way for a regenerative approach, which leads to healthy crops and higher yields.
  • A reduction in overall costs: Automated robots enable farmers to reduce the highly variable cost of manual labor as well as reduce the use of crop inputs such as herbicides and fertilizers. Labor is often farmers’ biggest cost and crop inputs account for 28.2 percent of their total expenses. Reducing costs in both these areas is a huge benefit.
  • Adoption of regenerative farming practices: Traditional chemicals used by farmers, such as herbicides, deteriorate soil health and are tied to health problems in humans and other mammals. A laser-powered, autonomous weed management solution reduces or eliminates farmers’ needs for herbicides.
  • An economical path to organic farming: One of the largest obstacles to organic farming is cost-effective weed control. A solution to weed management that doesn’t require herbicides or an increase in manual labor provides farmers with a more realistic path to classifying their crops as organic.

Related: Autonomous-Capable Electric Tractor Promises Improved Farm Productivity

The Bud robot’s brain is an Nvidia AI processor that gathers information from a dozen high-resolution cameras to feed its crop and weed computer vision models. Bud carries lighting so that it can illuminate the scene to let the cameras spot weeds at night.

The business end of the robot contains eight independent weed-killing units, each employing a 150-watt laser that can fire every 50 milliseconds and hit targets with 3 mm accuracy. These have the capacity to zap more than 100,000 weeds per hour. It also has lidar sensors for obstacle detection. The entire 9,500-lb. machine is powered by a 74-horsepower Cummins QSF2.8 diesel engine powering four hydraulic drive motors.

It sounds straightforward, but it took a lot of work to make this practical. “Some of the problems we encountered are having to generate a lot of power in a mobile platform and then distribute that to all of our lasers and cooling systems,” observed Carbon Robotics’ electrical engineer Ben Neubauer. “One of the things that is really enjoyable about working on agriculture robotics like this is working with a lot of different industries and systems,” he added.https://www.youtube.com/embed/FgO4rl5H3Cg

Of course, the important thing with a weed terminator is avoiding collateral damage of crops. “One of the first things we worked on at Carbon is the ability to drive down the field without going into bed tops, without crossing them and going over crops,” said Raven Pillmann, deep learning software engineer. “The way we want to do that is by avoiding any GPS, location waypoints, or any sort of plotting. Our approach was to use deep learning and create a furrow detection model. It takes in images with the camera which has RGB and depth sensors, it will run this through a model that gives out the location of the furrow. At the same time running concurrently in another process, we have our controls which will take in the latest prediction, and it will look at where the robot is aligned and the difference between that and the furrow prediction and that will tell it which way to turn the wheel.”

These robots can handle row crops in fields between 200 acres and tens of thousands of acres in size, with each robot clearing 15-20 acres per day to replace several deployments of hand-weeding crews. The robots have undergone testing on specialty crops farms, working on fields with a variety of crops, including broccoli and onions.

“This is one of the most innovative and valuable technologies that I’ve seen as a farmer,” said James Johnson of Carzalia Valley Produce in New Mexico, who uses Carbon Robotics technology on his farm. “I expect the robots to go mainstream because of how effectively they address some of farming’s most critical issues, including the overuse of chemicals, process efficiency, and labor. These robots work with a variety of crops, are autonomous and organic. The sky’s the limit.”

Carzalia Valley Produce liked the idea of switching to organic farming practices, Johnson added, but couldn’t find a way to make it work until using the autonomous weeding robot. “Two years ago I thought that eventually, I could go organic,” he said. “After a year of trying my first regenerative [practices], I was back to thinking ‘There’s no way I can go organic.’ The biggest hurdle I had with transitioning to organic was organic weed control. This solves that problem. Conventional weeding consists of mechanical cultivation, herbicide application, as well as hand weeding. Any kind of chemical input, be it chemical fertilizer, herbicide, insecticide, or anything else that we would apply has an adverse effect either on plant health or soil health.”

So, as long as we can keep Bud and its brethren tending the crops with its lasers and not chasing saviors of mankind through the streets of 1984 Los Angeles, then only the weeds have anything to fear from these terminators!

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No need for herbicides to remove weeds
1 December 2021
PRESS RELEASE

© Federal Office of Agriculture and Food/Fraunhofer

Fraunhofer researchers have collaborated with partners to develop a platform to remove weeds fully automatically. The mobile AMU-Bot robot system navigates using optical sensors and removes weeds mechanically without the need for chemicals. The researchers have also been working on a comprehensive, data-supported ecosystem for the resource-efficient and environmentally friendly automation of agricultural processes, writes Fraunhofer in a press release.

Weeds in tree nurseries, vegetable gardens and orchards are a grower’s worst nightmare. Especially in the early stages of the crop’s growth, weeds compete with crops for water, light and nutrients. Removing them by manual hoeing is labor-intensive and using herbicides is far from ideal as they pollute the environment. The Fraunhofer Institute for Manufacturing Engineering and Automation IPA in Stuttgart has joined forces with partners to develop a mobile, mechanical system that reliably removes weeds in a cost-effective and environmentally friendly manner. The autonomous caterpillar vehicle, AMU-Bot (“AMU” being short for “autonomous mechanical weed control” in German), drives between the rows of saplings in the tree nursery and removes any weeds using rotary harrows. The rotating blades are attached to a height-adjustable manipulator. At the end of the row of trees, the caterpillar vehicle turns around and autonomously starts on the next row.

Navigation with LiDAR scanners
The project team, headed by Kevin Bregler (Head of Field Robotics at the Robot and Assistive Systems department), together with partners Bosch and KommTek used optical sensors for the navigation system. The LiDAR (light detection and ranging) scanners installed in the robot system continuously emit laser pulses as the vehicle moves, which are then reflected by objects in the surrounding area. The distances to these objects can be calculated based on the time it takes for the reflected laser pulses to reach the sensor again. This produces a 3D point cloud of the environment. The robot system uses this to find its way and determine the position of plants or trees.

Kevin Bregler explains: “AMU-Bot is not yet able to classify all plants; however, it can recognize crops such as trees and shrubs in the rows of the tree nursery cultivations. Moreover, the distances between the individual crops are calculated. Using this information, the weeds can then be reliably removed. The robot uses these data to navigate along the rows while the manipulator removes any weeds.”

Even weeds in the spaces between the plants or trees can be reliably killed off. To that end, the manipulator moves into the gaps between the crops. The weeds do not need to be collected and are left on the ground to dry out. Thanks to its caterpillar drive, the self-driving weed killer moves along the ground with ease and is extremely stable. Even holes in the ground created when saplings are removed do not pose a problem for AMU-Bot. The AMU-Bot platform is economical, robust, easy to operate and highly efficient. Rotary harrows, for example, have long since proven successful in agriculture. They are often used to break up the soil prior to sowing crops. Fraunhofer expert Bregler says: “Removing weeds is a very relevant topic and one that is rather complex. There are various approaches that can be taken: grubbing, cutting, hoeing, flaming or treating the weeds with herbicides. However, herbicides are no longer popular, especially in ecological agriculture and for tree nurseries or orchards. Our method completely avoids the use of chemicals.”

Robust, reliable and cost-effective
The project managers made a conscious decision to develop a seemingly simple solution. “A system that classifies the different individual plants requires high-resolution cameras, AI-supported image recognition algorithms and plant profiles stored in a database. These systems are far more complex and expensive. Not only that, but they cannot readily switch to working in new contexts,” explains Bregler. In comparison, the AMU-Bot platform relies on the sophisticated interplay of three fully developed modules: caterpillar vehicle, navigator system and manipulator. AMU-Bot is also the result of an efficient partnership. Bosch is responsible for the navigation and sensor system, while KommTek developed the caterpillar drive. Fraunhofer IPA engineered the height-adjustable manipulator, including rotary harrows, and was responsible for overall coordination. The project was supported by the German Federal Ministry of Food and Agriculture (BMEL) and the German Federal Office of Agriculture and Food (BLE) was the project sponsor. The Fraunhofer experts are already planning the next step. Together with seven other Fraunhofer Institutes, IPA expert Kevin Bregler and the project team are working on a new, high-performance ecosystem called COGNAC (Cognitive Agriculture). Digital services and data, which also include interactions between biospheres and production, are networked to form this ecosystem. In addition, COGNAC integrates intelligent sensors and robotics. The aim is to create flexible and intelligent automation of sustainable agriculture — including weed control.

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‘Ten years ago this was science fiction’: the rise of weedkilling robots
A robot made by Carbon Robotics kills weeds on farmland using lasers. Photograph: Carbon Robotics

MON, 16 AUG, 2021 – 14:16PÁDRAIG BELTON

In the corner of an Ohio field, a laser-armed robot inches through a sea of onions, zapping weeds as it goes.

This field doesn’t belong to a dystopian future but to Shay Myers, a third-generation farmer who began using two robots last year to weed his 30-acre crop. The robots – which are nearly three metres long, weigh 4,300kg and resemble a small car – clamber slowly across a field, scanning beneath them for weeds which they then target with laser bursts.

“For microseconds, you watch these reddish colour bursts. You see the weed, it lights up as the laser hits, and it’s just gone,” said Myers. “Ten years ago this was science fiction.” Other than engine sounds, the robots are almost silent and each one can destroy 100,000 weeds an hour, according to Carbon Robotics, the company that makes them.

Carbon Robotics, in common with other agri-robotic startups, emphasizes the environmental benefits these machines can bring to farming by helping to reduce soil disturbance, which can contribute to erosion, and allowing farmers to heavily reduce or even eradicate the use of herbicides.

Farmers across the globe are under increasing pressure to reduce their use of herbicides and other chemicals, which can contaminate ground and surface water, affect wildlife and non-target plants, and have been linked to increased cancer risk. At the same time, they are battling a rise in herbicide-resistant weeds, giving extra impetus to the search for new ways to kill weeds.

“Reduced herbicide usage is one of the spectacular outcomes of precision weeding,” said Gautham Das, a senior lecturer in agri-robotics at the University of Lincoln in the UK. Destroying weeds with lasers or ultraviolet light uses no chemicals at all. But even with robots that do use herbicides, their ability to precisely target weeds can reduce the use by about 90% compared with conventional blanket spraying, Das said.

Five years ago there were almost no companies specializing in farm robots, said Sébastien Boyer, the French-born head of San Francisco-based robot weeding company FarmWise, but it’s now “a booming field”.

The global market for these agricultural robots – which can also be designed to perform tasks such as seeding, harvesting and environmental monitoring – is predicted to increase from $5.4bn (€4.58bn) in 2020 to more than $20bn (€16.98bn) by 2026. “Things scale up very quickly in agriculture,” said Myers.

FarmWise found its first customers in California’s Salinas Valley, which grows lettuce, broccoli, cauliflower and strawberries and is known as “America’s salad bowl”. Ten of the US’s 20 largest vegetable growers, in California and Arizona, now use the company’s robot weeders, according to Boyer. “In the beginning, they started working with us as an experiment, but now they are heavily relying on us”.

Removing pests, such as aphids, thrips and lygus bugs, is a next step for FarmWise. Robots can markedly reduce the use of fungicides and pesticides, said Boyer, by applying them more precisely, using computer vision.

As well as concerns over farming chemicals, labour shortages also play a part in robots’ advance into farmland. Farm labour can be “expensive, hard to come by and dangerous” for people involved, said Myers. 

There are still big challenges to wider-scale adoption. One problem is working in places where a battery recharge is not always readily available, which is a reason some robots – including those made by Carbon Robotics and FarmWise – use diesel for power, which itself produces harmful emissions and pollution.

Danish company FarmDroid’s machines and a herbicide-spraying robot made by Switzerland’s Ecorobotix are both solar-powered.

With batteries rapidly becoming lighter and gaining capacity, farm robots could soon be electrified, said Paul Mikesell, head of Carbon Robotics. This must be accompanied by charging infrastructure on farms, said Rose. “I don’t think we’re far away at all,” he added.

In the meantime, using fewer herbicides may be worth some diesel use, said Richard Smith, a weed science farm adviser from University of California at Davis. “In comparison to all the other tractor work that is done on intensive vegetable production fields, the amount used for the auto-weeders is a small per cent,” he said.

Another challenge is cost. These robots are still expensive, though broader adoption is likely to bring costs down. Carbon Robotics’s robot costs roughly the same as a mid-size tractor – in the hundreds of thousands of dollars.

FarmWise sells robots’ weeding labour, rather than the robots themselves, charging roughly $200 (€170) an acre. Selling a weeding service instead of selling robots requires less upfront investment from farmers, said Boyer, and helped get the robotics business off the ground.

“These service models should reduce the cost barrier for most farmers, and they do not have to worry too much about the technical difficulties with these robots,” Das said.

Covid has been a problem, too, impeding access to clients, investors and semiconductors from Asia. The pandemic has “squeezed startups out of the runway”, says Andra Keay, head of the non-profit Silicon Valley Robotics.

But, beyond weeding robots, Covid has also spurred interest in how robots can shorten supply chains.

Robot-run greenhouses can use hydroponics – growing plants without soil – to produce food closer to large population centres like New York, instead of in places like California where soil is richer.

Iron Ox, a robot-powered greenhouse company based in California, has devised a robotic arm which scans each greenhouse plant and creates a 3D model of it to monitor it for disease and pests.

“Not a lot has changed in agriculture, especially in fresh produce, in the last 70 years,” said Brandon Alexander, the head of Iron Ox who grew up in a large Texas farming family. “Robotic farming offers a chance for humanity to address climate change before 2050,” he said.

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Karel Bolckmans, COO with Biobest:

“AI and robotics will bring us to the Olympic version of IPM”

“Data-driven growing is a big thing in horticulture in general. Many growers are into autonomous growing, data-driven greenhouse management, and advanced analytics. We’re convinced that this revolution will impact biological crop protection as well”, says Karel Bolckmans, COO with Biobest. “After all, if artificial intelligence (AI) can help you grow more efficiently and achieve higher yields, it will definitely render further improvement to your IPM program as well.”

“Since retailers want to offer a complete produce gamma year-round of for example greenhouse tomatoes and deal with as few suppliers as possible, we’re seeing an evolution towards rapid scale increase of greenhouse operations. Growers need to grow sufficient quantities of a complete offering twelve months per year, from cherry to beef tomato and everything in between. It results in bigger, multi-site, and international companies that can be complex to control. Data-driven growing enables you to keep track”, Karel explains.

“We also see that data-driven growing performs much better than growers themselves when it comes to optimizing plant growth. We’ll be moving to grow based on hard data, not on gut feeling.”

“The same is true for IPM. The results of biocontrol-based IPM tools are largely dependent on knowing exactly what is going on in the greenhouse. The better you know how your plants and their pests and their natural enemies are doing, the more efficient and effective you will be able to deploy your crop protection tools and the less chemical pesticides you will need to use.”

Partnerships and own development
In May last year, Biobest launched Crop-Scanner, which comprises a scouting App for recording the location, severity, and identity of pests and diseases in the crop. Clearly visualizing these data via its web-based interface through heatmaps and graphs allows the grower to have a better overview of the situation in his crop while allowing his Biobest advisor to give him the best possible technical advice. More recently, Biobest also entered into a partnership with the Canadian company Ecoation, which developed a mobile data harvesting platform that combines deep biology, computer vision and sensor technology, artificial intelligence, and robotics. “We’ve been in touch for several years now and recently decided to work together on creating IPM 3.0. Their camera’s, sensors, and autonomous vehicles allow us to collect the best possible data which serve as input for an artificial intelligence-based Decision Support System (DSS) that allows us to provide the growers with the best-in-class technical advice regarding integrated pest and disease management (IPM)”, Karel explains.  “At the same time, growers have been struggling with several severe virus outbreaks, of which ToBRFV and COVID were only a few. This has made it harder for us to frequently visit our customers in person to provide them with technical advice. But how to get accurate information from growers about the situation in the crop if you can’t visit them? Ecoation’s web-based user interface allows for remote counseling, thereby rendering frequent on-site technical visits are not necessary anymore.”

There’s more… Earlier this month, Biobest announced their investment in Arugga, Israeli developer of a robotic tomato pollinator. It might look like an alternative for the Biobest bumblebees – and actually, it is. “But our goal is not to sell the most bumblebees or beneficial insects and mites. We want to be the grower’s most reliable provider of the most effective solutions in pollination and integrated pest management in a world characterized by rapid innovation.” Although this might sound like a big change in policy for the company, Karel emphasizes that it is not at all as rash a decision as it might seem. “We’re convinced that having access to more accurate information of the status of pests, diseases and natural enemies in their crop will allow growers to develop more trust in biocontrol-based IPM and therefore reach out less fast to the pesticide bottle.”

We have done extensive research for over three years, studying the available technologies and patents. That way, we concluded that Ecoation made a wonderful match, not only in terms of technology but also when it came to vision and company culture. The same goes for Arugga. Their respective technologies support the development of the horticultural business to deal with the ever-increasing challenges of scale-increase, labor shortage, and market demand.”

The technologies Biobest now participates in go beyond IPM. The Ecoation technology for example also concerns yield prediction, high-resolution climate measurements, and controlling the quality of crop work. “Through the Ecoation technology anomalies can be detected much earlier, that way predicting and preventing outbreaks of pests and diseases. Non-stop measuring everywhere is our ideal. This way we will learn more about the effect of climate on the plant and, more importantly, the effects of the crop protection measures.”

Karel notices an increasing interest of growers in this kind of technology. “There is an increasing market demand for residue-free fruits and vegetables. That’s the direction we’re heading to. Our aim is to help growers do this in the best way possible: with the support of robotics and AI.”

Data collection will convince more growers
He is convinced that the data that can be collected will convince more growers to start using the Ecoation and Arugga technologies. “We see now that pioneers in North America are highly interested and are currently successfully trialing these technologies. But it’s more than that: what we sell, is a production increase because of less plant stress from pests and diseases. Moreover, every single pesticide treatment causes plant stress and therefore negatively influences crop yield. This is very well known among experienced growers. ”

He remembers when a couple of decades ago, they saw the same when growers started switching from chemical crop protection to IPM. “I vividly remember 2006-2007 in Spain when many growers made the switch to biological control. They didn’t want to, they were forced by the retailers after the publication of a report on pesticide residues on Spanish produce by Greenpeace Germany. But at the end of that year, everybody was picking more and better peppers. In Kenya and elsewhere, rose growers who switch to biocontrol-based IPM pick more flowers, with a long stem and a better vase life. However, stories like this have never been scientifically quantified and published but are very well known to everyone in the industry. With our technologies, we will be able to immediately and continuously measure the exact effects of IPM on crop yield. Less work, more objective data. That means harvesting more kilos with less effort. AI and robotics will bring us to the Olympic version of IPM.”For more information:Biobestinfo@biobestgroup.comwww.biobestgroup.com

Publication date: Fri 25 Jun 2021
Author: Arlette Sijmonsma
© HortiDaily.com

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