Recently we discussed the potential and opportunities farmers now have to combat weeds with drones and robots. In this article we are looking at another innovative way of dealing with weed outbreaks and crucially looking at the 3 major benefits to fluorescent glow lights. Again, these would employ our trusted robot friends but would eliminate the need for drones and costly software.
The problem faced by robots is that they need to be able to distinguish a problem plant from a crop. This is no mean feat and certainly the technology in its infancy has yet to come up with a stand-alone robot that can do this. But with fluorescent glow lights the robot can tell a weed from a crop. Here’s how it works.
- At seed stage a fluorescent marker is placed by the farmer onto the seed. This is often done by spraying or by immersing the seed in fluorescent marker solution. Then the farmer will distribute his seeds as he normally would and as the crop grows the marker grows within the plant itself. So, by the time the crop has matured the foliage would even be visible with the same marker that was applied at seed stage. The marker acts like a signal to the robot and thus helps it distinguish that it is to be left alone. There is no restriction on crop variation and so far, has worked across a plethora of different crop varieties.
- The robot has fitted optic software. Or eyes. But these eyes are specifically designed to see fluorescent lighting. They are trained to see things that glow in the dark. In layman’s terms. This is known as track and trace and the ability of the robots to literally track and trace each crop is fundamental to their ability to work autonomously and with the fluorescent markers. Before the advent of the track and trace technology the robots were able to do their work but under automation. This only alleviated half the problem of course. Farmers were still having to go out at night with the robots and a whole set of lights.
- This technology eliminates the problem of herbicide. Or problems. As there are many issues with using herbicide to manage crops and control outbreaks of weeds. Thus far the marker system has proven safe for consumption and non-toxic. It has proved cheap and effective. The automated robots are relatively inexpensive though we suspect that their autonomous robot descendants may be a little more on the costly side as we have seen with drone/autonomous robot combinations. The great thing is that the robots are continually on hand, always re-usable and the fluorescent track and trace doesn’t fade. So, farmers have been able to cull a weed contamination quickly and effectively with absolutely no crop spoilage or concern for their crops.
As with most new and advanced agricultural technologies this has seen tremendous uptake in the wine growing community. Often the vineyards are best placed for the ability to adopt new and potentially costly technologies as well as being brilliantly set up for infrastructure. The row like nature of the vines and spacing makes it incredibly easy for automated robots to navigate and move freely around the farm and removing the weeds. We are not exactly sure how transferable the technology would be to more tightly packed crops because currently even the automated remote controlled robots are not small. But we are excited to see how the technology develops and see if it becomes practical for crop grows across the agricultural spectrum.
Have you heard of this technology? Do you have questions or concerns about its application? If so leave us a comment below and get the discussion going with us and your wider smart agriculturalist community.