Weeding robot offers a glimpse into farming’s future at first UK trial
- Credit: Chris Hill
An intelligent, autonomous weeding robot brought a glimpse of the future to a Breckland farm which hosted the machine's first trial on UK soil.
The French-made Dino robot is guided by accurate GPS signals to follow a pre-programmed route, straddling vegetable beds while two cameras assess the plant growth and identify weeds to be mechanically dug out from crops such as salads, leeks, onions and carrots.
Once under way, the battery-powered unit can work for up to 10 hours on a full charge, covering up to five hectares in a day, without the need for further human interference – even sending its operator a text message when the job is finished.
Its manufacturers say the technology could remove the manual workload from mundane and repetitive tasks – but it could also have significant environmental benefits in reducing soil compaction and the use of chemical herbicides.
Prag Mistry of Agricultural Innovations, which is the UK agent for Naïo Technologies, said: 'There are a lot of benefits. Soil compaction is a big issue in this day and age where big tractors are destroying soil structure with their weight, but at 800kg this is much lighter and, being powered by batteries, it is zero emissions.
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'Another crucial benefit is the reduction of pesticides. A lot of farmers are having to spray to control weeds, but with a mechanical system you can do away with chemicals, which is especially important when regulation is reducing the number of chemicals available.
'When you think about Brexit and the future, workers in the field are going to become a scarcity. Weeding is a mundane, boring and repetitive task, so to take that away from people and allow them to have more mentally stimulating jobs is better for the workforce. This is a simple solution.
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'I think it is significant because there are lots of projects coming out of universities and even small companies but until now we have not seen these types of technology being developed at a commercial level. There is nothing like this out there at the moment.
'There are two cameras which recognise, using an algorithm, the shape and size of a leaf and that creates a file of data to work from. The precision part of the equipment comes with a camera guidance system that recognises the row of plants and gives an additional adjustment to the tooling to ensure it stays within the lines.'