New AI-enabled tractors target weeds, using 90% less herbicide

Originally published at: https://boingboing.net/2018/05/22/new-ai-enabled-tractors-target.html

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Once the tractor has precisely located the weed, wouldn’t it be better to snip it with a pair of automated scissors, or something like that? Rather than squirt a noxious chemical on it and hope for the best?

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You need to get rid of the roots, just cutting most weeds won’t do much more than slow them down a bit.

Heavy tractors compact the soil, reducing it’s fertility. I’m hoping for small drones flying around taking care of weeds.

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Many weeds can regenerate from a root, so many herbicides disrupt plants systemically. Glyphosate disrupts a specific plant enzyme.

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Monsanto is so not gonna be down with this…

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Depends on the weed. You can cut multiflora rose within three inches of the ground a couple of days before the flowers open, and it will expend all its stored root energy throwing new flowers up, and then you cut it again just before the seed sets, and it’ll kill it. If you don’t hit that schedule, though, you can cut it a hundred times and it’ll just grow back.

It’s pretty much always best to pull weeds up by the roots. Just be careful since some of them have extremely noxious sap (like for example, poke weed and wild parsnip) that you really don’t want to get on you.

Most weeds are weeds because they’re hard to kill and grow in the wrong place; otherwise, they’d be wildflowers. :slight_smile:

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To tie this together, my dad used to say when we lived on a farm that even a rose can be a weed in the wrong place.

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High-tech investments like this are unnecessary when farmers practice conservation agriculture, the three components of which are no-till, constant cover crops, and non-patterned crop rotation. Annual weeds will be eliminated; perennials may need tillage every few years. The goal is to completely eliminate herbicide use. See David R. Montgomery’s book “Growing a Revolution,” and the NY Times Magazine piece “Can Dirt Save the Earth?” from April 18, 2018.

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Even if it is, I’ll still happily accept the multiple-orders-of-magnitude reduction in chemicals used that this technology could/should enable. If farmers can profitably eliminate 99% of herbicide usage, then I’ll wait until that happens before I evaluate how worried to be about the remainder.

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Can we please stop calling a slightly better generation of software and sensors ‘AI’ - the intelligence is in the engineers that designed the code and the sensor suite. It’s just an algorithm.

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Do you make the same argument when people talk about animal intelligence?

I agree the term ‘AI’ is often overused, but I hope you would agree that there is not a clear, sharp division between ‘algorithm’ and ‘intelligence.’ I’m not sure what it would mean for such a division to exist, but I would like to know if there is one. Where would you draw it?

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I think you may be confusing glyphosate with organophosphates. Very different substances.

Glyphosate is an herbicide that works on broad leaf plants (not insects such as bees) and isn’t known for cancer, but is known for causing habitat loss from over use. There isn’t much movement to ban it except over-counter use. Some of the additives to glyphosate sprays (i.e. surfactants) are of some concern. As farm chemicals go, glyphosate is at the safer end of the scale. Especially when compared to…

Organophosphates are known for being nerve agents and has found use as chemical weapons and as insecticides by tailoring the targeted nerve paths. Some are known to cause cancer too. They are known to affect biodiversity and bees by killing and weakening insect populations. Many versions are banned by treaty (sarin, anybody?) and by regulatory edict (parathion). Nasty (but effective) stuff that hopefully will be phased out.

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While generally not toxic, glyphosate seems to disrupt some bee behavior, such as spatial memory, navigation, and learning. Roundup appears to be having an effect on biodiversity of aquatic plants in some areas, too.

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Very interesting! Thanks for this!

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Actually, that’s good information. Multifloras are a pest plant in many pastures, and keep going and going; also if you have a vacant lot and one multiflora gets established, watch out! Now if only I could figure out the best way to kill this pest grass that throws lots of spiny painful burrs.

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Sounds like it’s probably even more DRM-heavy than usual.

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That’s wonderful. But it doesn’t help much when you’ve deported all the farm workers and the crops are rotting in the field. Hey look! It’s organic!

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This is great - reminds me of the potato chip factory. We used to go on factory tours of things like this with my daughter when she was small because its cool to see where stuff came from.

So the potato chip line had a station that sorted out brown and green chips. How it worked was when they came out of the fry onto a belt there was a scanner that saw the green chips and noted the position, then the conveyor accelerated to throw the chips over a small gap jumping to the next conveyer, but halfway across the gap was a series of small air jets that would make a puff of air, enough to push the green chip down at just the right moment, and just enough to miss the jump and fall into the reject basket. And sure enough the basket was filled with brown and green chips.

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When we think of a tractor it’s a large and bulky machine that requires a human operator. These new ones are advancing but in the close future we will have a small powerhouse of a machine that can work day and night traveling down individual rows.

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Hm. Dare I posit Keurig-style herbicide pods for your tractor or drone?

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