Smart Weed-Killing Machines Are Changing The Way We Use Pesticides


How it’s done now: The pesticide industry is a worth $100 million globally, of which herbicide sales total $26 billion. Needless to say, it’s big business. Currently, farmers spray entire fields and crops with large amounts of weed-killer, a process which is both expensive and time-consuming. What’s more is some weeds are starting to develop resistance to the herbicides designed to kill them.


What’s new:  In the space where artificial intelligence and agriculture meet companies are developing new technologies to make weed-control more precise, less expensive and safer.


ecoRobotix: Resembling a table on wheels, this solar-powered robot created by ecoRobotix rolls through fields, scans crops using computer vision and sprays individual weeds as it travels along. EcoRobotix estimates that its robot will reduce the total amount of herbicide used by 20 times. It is due to go on the market in early 2019.

Blue River Technology & John Deere: Blue River’s “See and Spray” weed control machine takes a slightly different form. It is designed to be towed by a tractor and uses computer vision and machine learning to identify weeds from crops, only applying herbicide where necessary. Blue River estimates that “See and Spray” could reduce the amount of herbicide used by 90%. The technology looks so promising that John Deere has invested $305 million to fully acquire Blue River. The “See and Spray” has only been tested on cotton fields, Blue River and John Deere plan to branch out to other crops and make the product widely available in about four or five years.

What does this mean?  A drastic reduction in the use of herbicides will obviously have a large impact on agrochemical giants such as Bayer and Syngenta. However, the industry is already bracing itself for change with companies adapting their business models to suit the new, emerging trend. Syngenta, for example, was an investor in Blue River before John Deere took over.


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