Using the latest technology to improve agriculture yields has been important since at least the beginning of the Iron Age and the resulting iron plow, but we still get excited about it.
In the corner of an Ohio field, a laser-armed robot inches through a sea of onions, zapping weeds as it goes. This field doesn’t belong to a dystopian future but to Shay Myers, a third-generation farmer whose TikTok posts about farming life often go viral. He began using two robots last year to weed his 12-hectare (30-acre) crop. The robots – which are nearly three metres long, weigh 4,300kg (9,500lb), and resemble a small car – clamber slowly across a field, scanning beneath them for weeds which they then target with laser bursts. “For microseconds you watch these reddish color bursts. You see the weed, it lights up as the laser hits, and it’s just gone,” said Myers. “Ten years ago this was science fiction.” Other than engine sounds, the robots are almost silent and each one can destroy 100,000 weeds an hour, according to Carbon Robotics, the company that makes them.
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'Ten years ago this was science fiction’: the rise of weedkilling robotsThe makers of robot weeders say the machines can reduce pesticide use and be part of a more sustainable food system