World’s first non-chemical robotic weeder showcased at UK farm

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Motion plastics company Igus and UK agri-tech start-up Small Robot Company (SRC) have presented a non-chemical robotic weeding solution during a live demonstration at Lockerley Estate in Hampshire.

At the field trial, held on 28 April, the partnership demonstrated how SRC’s weed-killing robot, called ‘Dick’, utilises five Igus delta robotic arms to position a ‘zapper’ that deploys electric charges to kill weeds.

Dick was joined by SRC’s monitoring robot ‘Tom’, which autonomously surveys fields to identify weed patches.

During the trial, Dick successfully identified and zapped individual weeds using AI and machine-vision technology.

Igus’s delta robot, used commonly for pick-and-place operations, manoeuvred the zapper end-effector, supplied by Rootwave, into place using an integrated motor and encoder linked to Dick’s master controller.

The master controller, combined with SRC’s AI system, communicates with Igus’ motor controller to synchronise the robot’s position, with the delta arm forming a closed-loop monitoring system.

Angelos Bitivelias, low-cost automation engineer at Igus, said: “Dick moves to one side, a camera takes a photo of the weed, the AI identifies it as a weed, and then AI decides where to zap it.

“The kinematics of the delta makes it well suited to the end-effector, and the belt drive means the zapper is always parallel to the ground below.”

Furthermore, lubrication-free engineering enables the arms to work despite the dust and dirt of farming conditions, while providing precision at a low cost, according to the partnership.

Matthew Aldridge, managing director of Igus UK, said: “Because the delta is lightweight and low-cost it has opened up new opportunities for these robots to be used in mobile applications, proving a new technology in a harsh outdoor environment.

“Igus is planning to work with SRC on new industrial applications where precise and low-impact actions are needed on farms and potentially other scenarios.”

Following the demonstration, SRC announced that Tom will become its first commercial robot to enter service on UK farms.

Customers include Lockerley Estate, where the trial took place, as well as Waitrose & Partners and the National Trust.

Learn more about argi-robotics in the April 2021 issue of Robotics & Innovation:

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