The Nexus of Advanced Weed Management: Laserweeding

by Brynna Sentel
5 minute read
An autonomous LaserWeeder unit

Weed control is necessary to ensure a high-quality, high-yield crop. This we know. And farmers have long relied on traditional weeding methods including, herbicides, tillage and hand weeding, though each present their own drawbacks and challenges.

The use of herbicides has led to the increasing occurrence of herbicide-resistant weeds and unwanted contamination of the environment. Active ingredients found in herbicides, like glyphosate, are under attack having been linked to negative environmental and public health impacts. And using tillage as a form of weed control can harm beneficial organisms, increase degradation of organic matter, impact drainage and water retention, and potentially even stimulate new cohorts of weed seeds to generate by moving the seed bank to the top of the soil.

Add to these challenges the growing labor shortages which have presented hardship for many post-pandemic growers.

And so as the industry evolves, so do technological advances to some of our most common in-field headaches.

Enter laserweeding, a new innovation that offers an alternative, presenting a reliable and sustainable solution for farmers.

Carbon Robotics, a pioneering agricultural robotics company, recently unveiled its 2022 LaserWeeder implement, an autonomous, laserweeding pull-behind robot that seamlessly attaches to the back of tractors. The new LaserWeeder is a precise, organic, and cost-effective weed control solution for large-scale specialty and row crops.

By leveraging artificial intelligence and laser technology, Carbon Robotics’ revolutionary, high-precision approach improves crop yield, provides safer working conditions for farmers, reduces overall costs associated with modern farming, and creates sustainable paths to regenerative and organic produce.

In addition to an updated build, the 2022 LaserWeeder features 30 industrial CO2 lasers, more than 3X the lasers in Carbon Robotics’ self-driving Autonomous LaserWeeder, creating an average weeding capacity of two acres per hour. Growers who use Carbon Robotics’ implements are seeing up to 80% savings in weed management costs, with a break-even period of 2-3 years.

Carbon Robotics worked closely with leading vegetable growers to design the 2022 implement so it integrates effortlessly into existing farming infrastructure while covering more ground and solving problems associated with spraying, hand weeding and mechanical weeding.

As a liftable agricultural implement, the 2022 LaserWeeder offers unique benefits, including:

  • Higher Performance. With 30 lasers spanning roughly 20 feet, this model has an average effective weeding capacity of two acres per hour. 
  • Flexible Configuration. The robot is fully adjustable for crop row widths ranging from 60 to 84 inches. Adjustments for transitioning between different crops can be made via a touch-screen without leaving the comfort of the cab.
  • Tractor Ready. The LaserWeeder is towed by common row tractors with a three-point hitch.

“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,” said Carbon Robotics CEO and Founder, Paul Mikesell in a recent press statement. “To best serve farmers’ needs, we’ve adapted the design of our product, but will still leverage our proven laserweeding 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.”

Mikesell has deep experience founding and building successful technology startups. He co-founded Isilon Systems, a distributed storage company, in 2001 which went public in 2006 and was acquired by EMC for 2.5 billion dollars in 2010. Prior to that, Mikesell served as Director of Infrastructure Engineering at Uber, where he grew the team and opened the company’s engineering office in Seattle, later focusing on deep learning and computer vision.

The 2022 LaserWeeder, like its self-driving 2021 predecessor, features Carbon Robotics’ sophisticated artificial intelligence technology. This system enables the robot to instantly identify, target, and eliminate weeds using thermal energy — while rolling. Carbon Robotics’ patented lighting system enables the LaserWeeder to operate day or night in virtually all-weather conditions, with millimeter accuracy. Mikesell says it’s important to also consider the economic benefits of laserweeding units. According to USDA data, crop inputs like chemicals and fertilizers make up roughly 28 percent of farmers’ total budget spend, while labor constitutes approximately 13.8 percent. Carbon Robotics’ internal research suggests their weed-blasting robots have the capability to save up to 80 percent in weed-control expenses on farms.

“We’ve clearly identified a need and established a demand,” says Mikesell. “We’ve sold out of 2022 LaserWeeder models and started taking pre-orders for 2023.” And though the current model is designed for larger farms of 800 acres and more, Mikesell says there are plans in place to provide an option for small-scale operations.

Adds Mikesell, “If we can relieve farmer pain points using an alternative that benefits the environment, we know we’re headed in the right direction.”

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