A new robot created in Nova Scotia may mean farmers could get some help tackling troublesome weeds in their fields.
This month, Nexus Robotics, a technology startup based in Dartmouth, N.S., won the weed-and-feed competition at the agBOT Challenge, an international showdown between agricultural robots in Rockville, Ind.
Dubbed R2 Weed2 or Hal-Bot, the autonomous machine uses artificial intelligence to distinguish between weeds and crops and is designed to both pluck weeds and spray herbicide.
"We want to get rid of the weed and keep the crop and even fertilize it. So one of the advancements … we made is vision systems can be better than humans at distinguishing them," said Thomas Trappenberg, part of the small team behind the battery-powered robot.
The robot has a 1.5-metre square frame with a central nozzle for spraying fertilizer or herbicide and a cutting wheel to slice the weeds that have a less developed root system.
"We can treat different types of weeds differently because it's more advantageous to cut certain weeds versus spray other weeds," said Teric Greenan, who grows vegetables on a farm in Lunenburg County in addition to his work with Nexus.
Greenan came up with the idea, and hopes it will save time and money for farmers who would otherwise fight weeds with a combination of herbicides and manual labour.
The machine uses a "drastically lower" volume of herbicides than what would be sprayed using a tractor, Greenan said.
"Because the robot is super accurate with where it's spraying … it actually allows the robot to use a much more effective herbicide because it's just hitting the weeds. Whereas before, if that was to just be sprayed randomly by a tractor, it would actually kill your crop," he said.
"I think that our robot, it's going to have a really big part to play in integrated pest management and making sure that weeds don't become resistant to herbicides."