Thursday, July 05, 2007

Another bit of Automata for Agriculture?

Claus Soerensen and his colleagues have weeds shaking in their roots.

For the past three to four years, the Danish agricultural engineering scientists have been working on a solution to control weeds for vegetable farming.

Enter Hortibot. An approximate three-foot-by-three-foot, self-propelled, global positioning system, directed, weed-eliminating, automated robot.

Soerensen, who came to the U.S. for a conference in Minnesota and is currently visiting family friend, Eric Sherman of Ludington, met with a couple local farmers at Bill and Ron Schwass’ Springdale Farms Monday morning to talk about his prototype.

Currently, the robot can identify approximately 25 different kinds of weeds and is equipped with a computer and GPS to find the exact location of the weeds and the plants themselves.

Depending on the needs of the farmer and the kind of vegetable crop, Hortibot has a variety of weed-removing attachments and methods. It can manually pick weeds, spray, or remove them using flames or a laser.

Hortibot is much more environmentally friendly than traditional methods of weed removal.

“You look at the environment and then you act,” Soerensen said.

By spraying exactly on the weeds and using the robot’s other techniques, Hortibot will reduce herbicide usage by 75 percent, Soerensen said.

“We are limited to what we can use and how much,” said Bill Schwass, a fifth-generation farmer. “Environmentally, if we can do something like this mechanically versus herbicides, it’s and advantage to all of us,” Bill said.

One major benefit to the robot is that it’s lightweight, between 450-650 pounds, which reduces the amount of soil compaction in the field.

Even attaching the unit to a small tractor will weigh less than the machinery currently used for weed-elimination.

“The idea is using small multiple units instead of large, big tractors,” Soerensen said.

Another perk to the robot will be reducing labor costs.

Well, kinda. Labor for working in the fields, but not for fixing them. Reduce # of jobs, but shift some others into other, higher paying work.

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