This is the Autonomous LaserWeeder from Carbon Robotics. And this could be a real game changer for agriculture. This is an AI operated, self driving weeding machine equipped with powerful computers, cameras and high power lasers. Using GPS and it’s own cameras and inertial guidance systems, this thing will travel the fields by itself at about 1 – 2 acres per hour, using its lasers to blast anything that isn’t the crop you’re trying to grow. It will run about 20 hours on a tank of fuel.
No labor costs, no chemicals, no weeds.
And this is not a prototype. This piece of equipment is in operation now, working in carrot and onion fields, and according to the company it saves farmers up to 80% or more of the costs normally associated with manual weeding, cultivating and herbicides. They are already testing it on other row crops and it works just as well on them as it does with carrots and onions.
Could we be looking at a future where we’d no longer be drenching crops with toxic chemicals? Maybe.
There are some problems. Aren’t there always?
First is cost. I wasn’t able to actually pin down a price on these things even though they claim they are in actual use right now. I scrounged around for a considerable amount of time and couldn’t come up with a definite purchase price for one of these things. But I imagine they are most definitely not cheap. (Well nothing is cheap when it comes to ag equipment. You can easily drop a half million bucks on a decent sized tractor these days.) Farmers of all types operate on razor thin profit margins. Just a few cents per pound increase in costs can be enough to put a farm out of business. But considering that right now human labor of any type is damned near impossible to find and the costs of herbicides are skyrocketing, if you can find them at all (we’re having a glyphosate shortage right now) even an expensive machine like this could be economically viable, especially if you can get a premium price for your produce by marketing it as herbicide free.
Second problem is size. These things are the size of an SUV, but even so they are tiny by modern agricultural equipment standards. And they are slow. They only cover about an acre or a little more every hour. A single large corn or soybean grower plants thousands of acres every year. Collectively we grow tens of millions of acres of corn, soybeans and other crops. These things, in their current form at least, could never deal with that much acreage. A typical soybean or corn grower would have to have dozens of these things running 24/7. Could the technology be scaled up to work with large ‘industrial’ growers? Maybe? We don’t know yet. I’m sure they’re going to try.
But that being said, this could be a real game changer for vegetable growers. I really hope this turns out to be a viable method for dealing with weeds.