Saturday, October 14, 2006

iFarm Robot Weedwacker

Imagine a robot, powered by the sun, that prowls around a field of crops. Inside the robot is a camera with an imaging system that identifies a weed. Suddenly, a robotic arm reaches down to the weed and cuts off the top part while another arm with a little spray nozzle on the end, shoots a small amout of herbicide directly onto what's left of the plant, thus ending the massive wide-spread use of the poison on all the rest of the crop.

Yep. Its being tested right now.

The robot uses GPS for navigation, and there are two small cameras mounted on a frame on top of the machine to give the robot depth perception, just like a human, said Lei Tian, agricultural engineer at the U of I. "If he sees a weed, he can actually tell how far away it is."

An on-board computer offers access to information that provides the morphological features of plants, to help the robot determine just what is and isn't a weed. Once a weed is identified, a robotic arm attached to the front of the machine engages a device the researcher calls "a custom-designed end effector."

There are two layers to the device, according to Tian. One layer cuts the weed, while the second layer applies herbicide to the cut weed.

"This type of application is extremely effective," said Tian, "because it applies herbicide directly to the plant, instead of broadcasting uniform rates across a field."

With this level of precision, Tian says the system has clear environmental benefits. In addition to cutting herbicide use, chemicals do not drift off-target when placed directly on the plants.

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