The researchers at LLU have nicknamed the robot Robis. A subtle, almost imperceptible movement to the right or left, and within seconds the computer recognizes the weed and destroys it. Bigger weeds are rotated and pulled out, smaller are burned.
“Like in fantasy movies, where a powerful laser blasts through walls or something, in this case it's less powerful, but just like that it heats or blasts through the leaves of the plant,” said Jānis Jaško, a researcher at the LLU Scientific Institute.
The robot has been a work in progress for a year and a half. The biggest pride for researchers is precisely the robot's ability to recognize weeds because of a unique artificial-intelligence-based program.
“We've trained the computer for what beets look like, carrots. He has learned six crops. We have also taught several of the most popular weeds in Latvia. By taking a picture, he is able to say, with a rather high precision, which is a carrot or beetroot and which is a weed that should be destroyed,” Jasko told LTV.
Researchers estimate that Robis could work at the same speed as a human, averaging between 200 and 600 meters an hour. Similar devices already available are not so precise. If the crop and weed grow close to each other, the device can destroy both of them. Robis won't do it.
“The amount of money farmers have to spend to pay for manual work is tens of millions in Europe. (..) it gets more expensive every year and increasingly difficult to access. Another aspect that comes here is the new COVID-19 situation, which makes it even more difficult for agricultural workers to travel from one country to another,” Jaško said.
Researchers estimate that this weed robot could get to industrial production in about three years.