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Laser weeding robot - 20 acres per day

 
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This popped up in my news stream today. A robotic weeder that can weed 20 acres, or around 100,000 weeds, per day.

It removes the need for pesticides, and replaces the expensive labour of 20 workers if done by hand.

https://www.freethink.com/articles/farming-robot
 
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The only issue with these I can see is they need huge flat fields, with no hedgerows or ditches and massive farms to be worth it. (mind you 100,000 weeds would be one acre for me!) And if they are taken up en mass which I suspect they will be it will be the death of small farms as machinery really does reduce costs noticeably.
 
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I feel somewhat similarly, Skandi, except I think the conclusion that I have come to is a little different.

There's absolutely no point in being an obstructionist, if that's the way things are going, in my view. History has proved that impulse ultimately futile. Just ask the original saboteurs who threw their wooden shoes, called sabots, into machinery to cause damage and work stoppage (thank you, Star Trek VI: The Undiscovered Country).

My conclusion, though is that it's imperative that the small farm and the homestead farmer be included in this new Revolution. Why can't we have the same thing for small farms? If anything, you'd see a far greater per-acre increase in productivity if such technology were made available to small farms, and a much greater increase in the greater good.

And yes, I'm not just talking about laser weeding, although I would definitely want my horticultural roombas to have that on-board function. You know how some people still build their own computers? Or cars from kits? Or they might be into coding and programming, and playing with those Raspberry Pi computers to do some really amazing, or really boring, things? We'd basically need an open-source permie robotics community that could serve our general and specific needs as automation consumers.

So imagine we had this kind of thing open-sourced and someone in our community made a business out of buying components in bulk. Perhaps someone else worked with them, assembling the basic architecture, whatever. And then perhaps a third of them takes "clients," ascertains their specific needs, and provides them with a selectively autonomous unit or solution utilizing elements of their existing equipment, and the client is suddenly able to take more projects on, or to commit more fully to projects that take more time and resources. More productivity from an acre using fewer people means more derived per acre, which can easily mean that more family farms can stay family farms. If you only need one child to want to take over, and it's more like an inherited retirement because of permaculture, and the automation of the physically or temporally demanding bits, we'd see farm family culture make a return.

And as to huge, flat fields, if they can build rovers to go to Mars or the lunar surface, I think we can most certainly design in a self-righting mechanism, and means by which a robot could stay upright and get around on rough terrain. If the idea worked well enough, I could see designing one that ran on tracks (think tank, not train) or balloon tires set wide enough that the robot could pass completely over a block-planted row if low enough, or could be ganged up with complementary units for harvesting, or for field amendment, redistribution of crop residues, what have you.

Actually, a two-wheeled electric tractor would be my bet as a platform for a workhorse. But whatever the size niche, I could see a nice, simple design working well. You might need to literally telerobotically command it the first time it goes through its rounds, like a mapping run, but realistically, you could plot its course on GPS and it would follow, not ever having seen the terrain. Couple that with large-diameter wheels, a low centre of gravity, and kill-on-sight orders for specific types of plant in specific places, and there's a lot of the maintenance done. And maybe you could extend the kill-on-sight definitions to include, say, squirrels. Other nibbly varmints, certainly, and perhaps some of the winged contingent, though I'd perhaps swap out the laser for a pressure sprayer. But squirrels.

I'd be enjoying my acreage, my faithful Ironsides patrolling the gardens, occasionally greeted by the sight of headless squirrels dotting the ground around my food systems.

I have a couple of ideas as to how they might look in some iterations.





Or, you know, built into existing traction systems, whatever.

-CK
 
Michael Cox
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Yep. This is really one of those issues where a disruptive technology could genuinely be beneficial.  Intensification of agriculture, when done well, can drastically reduce the pressure on marginal land.  This could make the take up of organic agriculture more economic on the wider scale, as it directly replaces the need to use herbicides. And if it makes land more productive in terms of food per acre, then more farmland can be returned to a wild or semi-wild state.

Much of permaculture leans heavily towards less intensive, but integrated, systems of agriculture. These massive scale, highly technological systems have their place as well.
 
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I bet if I had a fancy laser I could work faster than the robot. Maybe a laser weeding stick is a better solution. (at least for small areas)
 
Chris Kott
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Yes, that's true. And that's great if you are already needing to walk your property. But I can see where having horticultural sentries would be helpful. That way, you could be fixing broken equipment, or taking care of yourself and family, or taking care of another stacked function that could use more of your precious time.

So to paraphrase Sepp Holzer, sure you could do without the robot. But then you'd be stuck doing the robots' work.

-CK
 
Skandi Rogers
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Chris Kott wrote:I feel somewhat similarly, Skandi, except I think the conclusion that I have come to is a little different.

_________________________________

My conclusion, though is that it's imperative that the small farm and the homestead farmer be included in this new Revolution. Why can't we have the same thing for small farms? If anything, you'd see a far greater per-acre increase in productivity if such technology were made available to small farms, and a much greater increase in the greater good.

-CK



Thing is that isn't how it goes, mechanisation gets larger and larger just look at tractors, ploughs, combines etc A combine is a very good example, to grow grain and compete at all on price you have to have a combine (or rent one) to afford a combine it has to be old, but that's ok because to get a combine into a small field where there are trees and hedgerows it has to be old anyway. the new ones are way to large to fit into any traditional field. There is no reason why a combine cannot be built small, it could be built to do a single row of wheat from a 2 wheel tractor, but there is no money in that.
Small farms cannot afford high tech wizardry as vegetables are basically worthless, The only uses for such a robot are farms with multiple employees, the best hoer (new word!) I have seen can manage around 3-4 acres per day, so that robot to be fully utilised could only work on farms where there were at least 5 to 6 people hoeing, if it can do 20 acres a day the farm would have to be what 200 acres? to keep it in use and not losing money sitting in the barn. I would assume the 20 acre limit is probably due to the batteries so soon enough it will be able to do more. The biggest organic mixed vegetable farm around me is around 20 acres and employs 6 people full time in season, but only one weeding.

When they get them to work at say $100,000 they will start to sell but they won't help small places until they start to appear fifth hand, how long did it take for tractors to replace horses on the smaller farms? For my operation it could never help, my plants don't have enough space around them to get a wheeled vehicle in, anything small enough to fit in my field would be stolen and the cost well it would have to be basically free as freeing up my time doesn't increase my bottom line, unless I went and did something else which defeats the point.

It's not that I don't think it will work, I do, and I think it will be used, and in it's use it will remove more workers from the land and remove humans even further from nature and growth.
 
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A whole day for just 20 acres? The Empire's weedwhacker cleans an entire planet in less than one second!
Superlaser2.jpg
[Thumbnail for Superlaser2.jpg]
 
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The article said: "Carbon Robotics' CEO Paul Mikesell told the Seattle Times it costs hundreds of thousands of dollars (he declined to provide an exact price)."

So maybe, perhaps, a really large farm would spend that much on weeding, plus the ongoing costs of a tractor-to-combine sized machine. How often would you need to weed if not spraying? Maybe every 1-2 weeks? I really don't know. So that machine could cover 100-200 acres of weeding every 1-2 weeks. I don't know how much a farmer spends on sprays but I'd guess the financial hit of the machine would be significant.

I also wonder how much articulation do the lasers have, to avoid zapping the crop leaves that might be in the way or blown into the field of fire by a breeze. Maybe that's a simple fix the machine already handles? A robot using "high energy lasers" uses how much power during operation? Will there be batteries involved in addition to gasoline/diesel?
 
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Dang, I love weeds!  RIP lovely creatures.
 
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A weed-killing robot is one of the projects I keep noodling over. I even considered lasers, but decided on tiny mower blades instead, at least for now. Eventually I might make one that uses lasers.

If you're ok with using a remote control instead of AI, the robots become a lot simpler to build. The prototype I'm currently working on uses a toy car as the body. Again, eventually I'd like to build one that's self-guiding, but for now the need for robotic assistance outweighs the need for complicated features like AI. With my back and shoulder problems, it's a lot easier to walk the field holding a controller than it is to pull or hoe by hand.
 
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A $100,000 dollar machine doesn't nessisarily need a big farm, it needs enough customers.
If  a farmer could pay to have his fields weeded on a regular basis, he doesn't need to own the machine.
It's like any business that contracts with a cleaning service, only the service is using robots rather than hiring people.
Somebody will still need to transport and set up the robot, as well as service it, and that means jobs .

How about purposely growing nitrogen fixers along side your cash crop and having the robot cut them back , creating a flush of nitrogen to feed the crop?
 
Not so fast naughty spawn! I want you to know about
Rocket Mass Heater Plans: Annex 6
https://permies.com/wiki/138231/Rocket-Mass-Heater-Plans-Annex
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