A piece of farm machinery works in a field with AI written over it
(Image credit: Igor Borisenko)

Vehicles are going autonomous, so why not weeding machines? Weeding robots are real, and some farms have already put them to use. These autonomous weed killers should reduce labor costs for farms, many of which are experiencing labor shortages. Robots could also be important in reducing the use of harmful chemicals in agriculture.

What Are Weeding Robots?

A robot weeder is exactly what it sounds like: a machine that does the work of removing or killing weeds. It is an autonomous vehicle that moves through fields selectively eliminating weeds.

Types of Weeding Robots

There are several ways a robot can deal with weeds. Types of weeders are based on how they destroy the weeds and by the crops they are designed to work around.

  • Laser weeding robots direct lasers at weeds to destroy them. This strategy is efficient and fast, obliterating up to 50 weeds per second.
  • Weed-whacking robots use blades to cut down weeds. Using blades is a simpler technology but will probably be less effective and efficient than lasers.
  • Some robots have been designed to selectively apply herbicides to weeds. This would reduce the amount of chemicals needed to weed a field and prevent application to the crop plants.
  • Other robots are designed for specific crops. For instance, several vineyards already use automated weeders made just for dealing with weeds around grape vines.

The Costs of a Weed-Killing Robot

According to research, human labor often makes up more than 50% of a farm’s costs. Initially, at least, it will probably only provide a return on investment for large farms. One robot weeder currently in use in some locations -- the Dino made by French company Naio Technologies -- costs $120,000.

The Benefits of Robot Weeders

Farmers have to deal with weeds somehow. They compete with crops for light, water, and nutrients. Weeds account for the largest losses to crops on farms worldwide. Pulling weeds by hand is labor-intensive and costly.

Saving on labor costs is just one important benefit of adding weeding robots to farms. Robots could also help reduce reliance on chemical herbicides. Herbicides harm the environment and people. And, many of the most widely used herbicides are losing effectiveness. Weeds are evolving to tolerate them.

Are Robot Weeders Available for Home Gardens?

Robot weeding is poised to revolutionize agriculture, but could it also be used on a smaller scale by home gardeners? It seems likely that home models will become available as the agricultural models become more technologically advanced and less costly.

Researchers at the University of Maine have developed a small robot that works a lot like home vacuuming robots. It moves around a bed chopping down weeds. It senses plants by height and only chops down those that are under a certain height. As long as crop plants are tall enough, the robot will only destroy weeds. While it is not available to the public, designs like this could ultimately become as ordinary as vacuum robots.

Weeding robots are posed to become essential tools in big agriculture, saving money and labor and reducing or eliminating herbicide use. This will benefit farmers, the environment, and consumers, who might see cost reductions and will be less likely to be exposed to herbicides on produce.

Mary Ellen Ellis

Mary Ellen Ellis has been gardening for over 20 years. With degrees in Chemistry and Biology, Mary Ellen's specialties are flowers, native plants, and herbs.