bots IN BRIEF
16 SERVO 01.2016
ULTIMATE WEED WACKER
Recently at IROS, researchers from a Bosch startup called Deepfield Robotics presented a paper on “Vision-Based
High-Speed Manipulation for Robotic Ultra-Precise Weed
Control,” which has a bunch of exciting-sounding phrases in
it. Their enormous agricultural robot can autonomously
detect and physically obliterate individual weeds in a tenth of
Given the scale of farming today, treating weeds
chemically is really the only practical way for humans to keep
them under control because you can use tractors or
airplanes to cover large areas in a short amount of time.
However, all of those necessarily deadly (to weeds)
chemicals then get on the plants we don’t want to kill
(because we want to eat them), as well as getting
washed into the soil.
The most organic and eco-friendly way of dealing
with weeds is the old-fashioned way: physically
removing them. “Physical removal” can mean pulling
weeds out completely, but that involves both grasping
the weed and doing something with it. A better
solution is to just smash it way down into the ground,
which is faster, easier, and something a robot can do.
The stamping tool is one centimeter wide, and it
drives weeds about 3 cm into the soil. It’s designed to
detect (through leaf shape) and destroy small weeds
that have just sprouted; although for larger weeds, it
can hammer them multiple times in a row with a cycle
time of under 100 ms.
Testing on a real carrot crop — which has carrots
spaced about 2 cm apart and an average of 20 weeds per
meter growing very close to the carrots themselves — the
robot had no trouble at all. The maximum capability of the
system is about 1.75 weeds per second at a speed of
3. 7 cm/s, and a weed density of 43 weeds per meter.
At lower weed densities, the speed can be cranked up
to 9 cm/s.
The robot is intended to be a module that can be
used on Deepfield’s “adaptable multi-purpose robotic
platform,” BoniRob. BoniRob can navigate itself,
adapting to many different field configurations. Its
modular payload bay can handle up to 150 kilograms
of stuff, and an onboard generator lets it run
autonomously for 24 hours without needing to refuel. It’s
powered by ROS, and Deepfield even suggests that you could
use it for crazy stuff like drone launches or even swarms of
The idea here is that farms could buy one BoniRob, and
then buy or rent whatever modules they happen to need
when they need them, without having to invest in many
single-task robots. With Deepfield currently conducting
extensive real world tests with BoniRob operating
autonomously on farms, we’re guessing that it’ll be available
in the very near future.
Image: Deepfield Robotics