Self-driving weed killer
Weeds are truly a pest, depriving crops of light, water and nutrients. They inhibit crop growth especially in the early stages. For owners of private gardens, that’s a nuisance while the owners of tree nurseries or orchards incur high costs for complex weed control by flaming, grubbing, hoeing or spraying with herbicides that are harmful to the environment.
Fraunhofer Institute for Manufacturing Engineering and Automation IPA in Stuttgart in collaboration with partners has developed an alternative in which a machine performs the time-intensive weeding job. AMU-Bot (AMU stands for “autonomous mechanical weed control” in German) is an electric caterpillar autonomously traveling through plantations and killing weeds by means of rotating blades aka rotary harrows. At the end of a row of trees the weeding robot autonomously turns around and enters the next row.
Navigation with LiDAR scanners
The machine uses optical sensors and GPS for guidance. The installed LiDAR (light detection and ranging) scanners with their continuously emitted laser pulses detect potential obstacles and guide the robot through the plantation with pinpoint accuracy.
A height-adjustable tool uproots the weeds that will subsequently dry up and no longer compete with the cultivated crops and therefore do not have to be collected separately. AMU-Bot removes weeds between the crops within a row by means of laterally extensible circular harrows.
Technology for networked farming
The project managers deliberately opted for 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 Fraunhofer researcher Kevin Bregler.
The AMU-Bot platform removes weeds reliably, is economical, robust, easy to operate and highly efficient.Fraunhofer researcher Kevin Bregler
When the mobile weed killer prototype will be ready for market is not clear yet. The experts at Fraunhofer Institute view AMU-Bot as a piece of a puzzle in a forward-looking vision called Cognitive Agriculture, where digital services and tools will be collecting data about farmland ultimately leading to “flexible and intelligent automation of sustainable agriculture” – including weed control.