May the force be with veg farmers

By Amanda Bryan

26 September, 2022 

A robot armed with precision laser beams that can kill 100,000 weeds per hour is now rolling off the production line.

The next-generation farm equipment combines robotics, AI and laser tech and has been developed in the US to help boost food production and reduce the use of damaging herbicides.

The farm robot, the 2022 LaserWeeder from Carbon Robotics, attaches to the back of tractors for use on large-scale specialty row crops such as broccoli, carrots, cauliflower, chard, cilantro, kale, lettuce, onions, spinach, and tomatoes.

The Seattle-based company was founded by Paul Mikesell in 2018 and its high-power lasers were designed to eradicate weeds through thermal energy without disturbing the soil.

This paves the way for a regenerative approach which leads to healthier crops and higher yields, according to its maker, and the tech also reduces labour costs and offers a sustainable alternative to herbicides and an economical path to organic farming.

The 2022 LaserWeeder features 30 industrial lasers capable of weeding 15 to 20 acres of crops in one day, and the latest model, launched in February, builds on the range, with a self-driving model launched by Carbon Robotics in 2021.

We’ve proven the effectiveness of our laserweeding technology . . . including healthier crops and soil, decreased herbicide use, and reduced chemical and labor costs

Paul Mikesell

founder of carbon robotics

Paul Mikesell

Carbon Robotics said it worked closely with leading vegetable growers to design the 2022 model so it integrates into existing farming infrastructure and covers more ground.

“We’ve proven the effectiveness of our laserweeding technology and the immense benefits it offers farmers, including healthier crops and soil, decreased herbicide use, and reduced chemical and labor costs,” Carbon Robotics CEO and founder Paul Mikesell said at the launch earlier this year.

“To best serve farmers’ needs, we’ve adapted the design of our product, but will still leverage our proven laser weeding technology. Our mission has always been to provide farmers with the most effective tools, and the strong demand for LaserWeeders is evidence we’re helping them solve a serious problem.”

The tech:

The 2022 LaserWeeder features 12 cameras and 30 industrial lasers, creating an average weeding capacity of two acres per hour. AI technology enables the robot to instantly identify, target, and eliminate weeds using thermal energy while rolling, and its patented lighting system enables the LaserWeeder to operate day or night in almost all weather conditions with millimetre accuracy. The robot is fully adjustable for crop row widths. Adjustments for transitioning between different crops can be made via a touchscreen without leaving the comfort of the cab. The LaserWeeder is towed by common row tractors with a three-point hitch.

Who funds it:

To scale manufacturing, the company recently raised a $27 million Series B in 2021 from Anthos Capital, Ignition Partners, Fuse Venture Capital, Voyager Capital, Bolt and Liquid2 Ventures. This latest round brought the company’s overall funding to $36 million.

Is it ready to roll:

Carbon Robotics’ 2022 LaserWeeder had a sell-out US launch in February, with pre-orders for 2023 now open.
The company also launched a self-driving model called the Autonomous LaserWeeder in April last year.

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