The Solar PV Powered Weed Warrior

Ecorobotix solar powered autonomous robot weeder

Perhaps we’ll see Ecorobotix’s solar powered autonomous robot weeder quietly trundling across Australian fields in the not too distant future.

Ecorobotix’s robot works away on its own, positioning itself with the assistance of an on-board camera, GPS real-time kinematic (RTK) and sensors.

It’s able to detect the presence and position of weeds in and between crop rows. When it identifies a weed, robotic arms spray a microdose of herbicide. Its makers claim 95% of weeds are detected and destroyed, but that’s assuming ideal conditions. Soil can’t be too wet and the maximum wind speed it can operate under is 60 km/h at ground level.

Under ideal conditions, the robot can cover 3 hectares per day, so it’s not really suitable for broadacre operations.

The robot is powered by 380 watts of solar cells. Some of the promotional material says “solar powered, no rechargeable batteries”, but other specifications indicate there is an on-board battery (capacity not mentioned). It can continue to operate in overcast conditions, albeit at reduced performance. In good conditions, it can operate up to 12 hours a day and it has 2 x 15 litre herbicide tanks – more than enough for one day of autonomous operation.

The robot is a relative lightweight, tipping the scales at approximately 130 kg.

Ecorobotix says the autonomous robot weeder uses 20x less herbicide per application and is up to 30% cheaper than standard treatments. Due to its targeting and microdosing abilities, no herbicide is left on the crop.

The robot is programmed/controlled via a smartphone or tablet. Currently its programming is confined to working with beetroot and canola crops.

Ecorobotix expects its creation to be commercially available at the end of this year – no word on price though.

Australia’s Own Robotic Weed Whacker

While Ecorobotix’s robotic weeder is claimed to be the first completely autonomous device of its nature, Australia has its own related invention.

A couple of years ago, Queensland University of Technology researchers developed the AgBot II. In addition to spraying, it can also destroy weeds mechanically or thermally. It’s also solar powered, but AgBot II doesn’t feature solar panels on the robot – they are on the charging pod, which AgBot returns to when it needs a top-up. It’s also a lot heavier than Ecotronix’s product, weighing in at around 600kg.

There hasn’t been much news of progress on the AgBot II project in the last couple of years, but you can learn more about it here.

About Michael Bloch

Michael caught the solar power bug after purchasing components to cobble together a small off-grid PV system in 2008. He's been reporting on Australian and international solar energy news ever since.

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