Robotics & Machine Learning
Caterra: Laser-based weeding
Automating hand weeding in organic farming with robots using lasers
The extensive use of herbicides in modern agriculture is highly controversial, contaminating our drinking water. In addition, more herbicides are being prohibited every year, leaving the farmer to deal with the weeds by other methods. While a part can be removed by tractor mounted cultivators, the only alternative for weeds close to the crops is hand weeding, which can take up to 1000 hours per hectare. This requires hiring seasonal workers who are becoming increasingly harder to find as this is heavy physical labour. If weeds are not removed, farmers face a significant loss in harvest. Hand weeding is a substantial part of the costs in organic farming, but it is also a major administrative effort.
As an alternative to hand weeding, we are developing a small autonomous robot. It will drive through the field itself and remove weeds close to the crops using a precisely aimed laser. With this, the farmer will only have to press start/stop in order to remove weeds from his fields.
We are already working with four farmers, one of which is the biggest organic vegetable producers in Switzerland. They have expressed their interest in our solution and support us with collecting data in their fields.