A robot that zaps unwanted organisms with lasers may describe a character in a science fiction plot, but in reality, it’s a technological response to farming with high labour costs.

The Jäti is a battery-powered autonomous crawler built by a pair of German companies that is designed to identify weeds and destroy them with laser beams.

Yes. Lasers killing weeds.

And no, it’s not a coincidence that the robot’s name is similar to the hooded Star Wars characters whose weapon of choice is the laser, or lightsaber.

Underneath the Jäti’s white hood, a high-resolution camera collects images in a 30 cm (12″) wide path. This information is processed in real-time by self-learning object recognition software, explains Ernst Friedrich of SPL (or Service Für Präzisions-Landwirtschaft.) Any plant that is not supposed to be in the path gets zapped with high intensity laser beams.

“We started in carrots, because this crop has the most hand-weeding hours…but we are open to common crops, such as wheat,” he says in the video below, filmed at Agritechnica 2017 in Hanover, Germany.

“The real technology is the distinguishing of the plants,” Friedrich continues.

The Jäti is effective against weeds from the cotyledon to four-leaf stage.

He says there are several benefits to killing weeds with lasers as opposed to other means, including accuracy down to the millimetre and reduced soil disturbance versus mechanical weed control (which is especially important in carrots.)

Still at the prototype stage, Friedrich says SPL and partner company Peschak are working on improving the machine’s self-learning algorithms, “going higher in the distinguishing rate, and working faster and reliably.”

“Then if it works to be reliable, we can go outside and bring the service to other farmers.”


Find more coverage from Agritechnica here — brought to you by Dow AgroSciences.

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