Video: Weed-killing robot drastically reduces herbicide use

The herbicide-spraying robot uses cameras to target weeds individually
The herbicide-spraying robot uses cameras to target weeds individually

A robot which uses its cameras to identify weeds in vegetables field has reduced herbicide usage by up to 95 percent.

Research trials of the new automated weed-killing robot, eyeSpot, demonstrates how emerging technology can make farming environmentally-friendly.

The robot uses cameras to target weeds individually and applies precise herbicide droplets with an ejector, which accurately fires treatment to individual leaves of each weed.

Carried out at Reading University and part-funded by AHDB, the research set out to protect the environment and help the industry manage with less access to crop protection products.

“This is precision agriculture in action, the robot has significantly reduced use of herbicides, while practically eliminating any harm to non-target organisms,” said AHDB Crop Protection Senior Scientist, Joe Martin.

PhD researcher at the University of Reading, Nikolaos Koukiasas, added: “eyeSpot represents a paradigm shift to weed control by accurately targeting leaf-specific droplet applications.

“Preliminary results of manual droplet applications showed excellent weed control and a 95 percent reduction of herbicide use in cabbages, and 74 percent in leeks.”

With big data becoming instrumental in farming, eyeSpot’s imagery also has the potential to be used for the observation of growth rates, enabling accurate scheduling of operations, early yield estimates and the detection of crop stress.

Alistair Murdoch, Professor of Weed Science at Reading, said: “Yields and profitability are likely to equal or exceed those achieved by conventional herbicide treatments without applying any chemical to the crop.

“The environment also benefits greatly by reducing the need for mechanical weed control, eliminating spray drift and reducing the possibility of chemicals entering the surrounding area.”

Partners involved in the development of eyeSpot robot include Concurrent Solutions llc in the USA.

The remainder of the project is supported by Knight Farm Machinery and is being partly funded at the University of Reading by the Douglas Bomford Trust and AHDB.

Opportunities for commercialisation are being explored, and if successful in later stages of trials, eyeSpot would be developed to serve the UK and potentially other worldwide markets.