This Autonomous Robot Can End Mass Spraying of Herbicide on Crops
While some worry of the impending threat robots may have on humanity, some good news concerning artificial intelligence is here, and it may be the undoing of large agrochemical manufacturers. Soon a particular type of robot may become commonplace on farms, scouring crops for weeds and eliminating the need to spray large amounts of toxic herbicide on our food.
The Swiss startup, ecoRobotix, has developed a solar-powered, autonomous robot that combs through fields, detecting where weeds are growing, before directly delivering a micro-dose of herbicide to their roots. The bot can run on its own for 12 hours without emitting pollution and is easily transportable.
Current farming practices rely on universal herbicides, such as Monsanto’s Roundup and its genetically modified crops capable of withstanding Roundup. But these herbicides and GMOs have been proven to be highly toxic, despite their rampant use.
With these new robots, precise applications of herbicides can ensure that fewer toxins are being applied to crops while also saving farmers money. The company believes its technology could reduce the amount of herbicide farmers use by twentyfold.
The robot’s physical design is relatively simple: solar panels are mounted to wheels, with a camera, and arms on its undercarriage that extend to direct a swift, targeted spray of herbicide to individual plants. The company says this precision application leaves no herbicide on the crops themselves and preserves the life of the soil, while minimally impacting it from the lightweight design.
Farmers can control the robot from a smartphone, allowing them to redirect it to other areas where it can then work on its own. The company says their bot will even adapt its speed based on the number of weeds it detects.
There are other companies working on this technology other than ecoRobotix, including one bought by the John Deere tractor company. This type of technology threatens the exorbitant profits made by companies like Monsanto, Bayer, and DowDupont, who reap billions selling herbicides that are indiscriminately sprayed on crops worldwide.
Unsurprisingly, these major agrochemical companies are working to get their hands on this technology. Bayer says it’s not concerned with its business model of being a volume seller of herbicides, though its acquisition of Monsanto could make that model’s vulnerability more of a reality. The global market for herbicides is about $26 billion, of which Bayer and Monsanto earn 34 percent.
In the meantime, prototypes for these autonomous robots are still being fine-tuned, but ecoRobotix says it plans on having them ready for market by early next year. And for now, the robot revolution looks a little less ominous.
Mites, Monsanto Cause Colony Collapse Disorder; Is Fungi A Solution?
Something has killed honey bees in droves for the past 20 years leading to what’s known as colony collapse disorder. For a while, the culprit remained ambiguous, but now scientists are discovering that a number of anthropogenic factors, including Monsanto’s herbicide glyphosate, pesticides, and parasites may be to blame. Though these may seem like disparate problems requiring complicated solutions, there is one man who believes he has an answer that could save the bees—that man is Paul Stamets, and his answer is fungi.
Over the past several years, Stamets has become something of a rockstar in the field of mycology—the study of fungi—for his radical and pioneering work discovering the endless applications and influences mushrooms have on our world.
Since he began researching fungi in the 1970s, Stamets has received 12 patents, written six books, and been recognized by a multitude of esteemed institutions. There’s even a character on Star Trek: Discovery named after him—Lt. Cmdr. Paul Stamets.
Part of Stamets’ appeal stems from his Deadhead-turned-scientist persona that views fungi from a spiritual perspective, not just a materialist lens. Stamets admits his early use of Psilocybe cubensis, also known as “magic” mushrooms, became the catalyst for his fascination, leading to a lifelong journey studying the myriad mycelia that populate the planet.
Stamets’ discoveries have changed lives and now he hopes to parlay his mushroom knowledge into a comprehensive plan to save the bees, and in the process, maybe save humanity as well.
Colony Collapse Disorder
Colony collapse disorder is the phenomenon in which there is a mass exodus of worker bees from the hive, typically dying or fleeing from infection. These bees leave their queen behind with a few nurse bees to care for her, though their chances for survival drop significantly, especially as winter draws near. Scientists have identified several factors related to colony collapse, most of which stem from pathogens and chemicals that degrade bees’ immune systems.
And while we all know bees produce honey and wax, many don’t realize just how crucial they are to our survival as a species.
Bees are pollinators, and while this may seem obvious, many are unaware of just how essential bee pollination is to agriculture. When a bee collects nectar from a plant it picks up pollen and transmits it to other plants, allowing them to bear fruit. And a single bee can pollinate up to 1000 flowers a day.
This process is necessary for our agricultural industry, as about 35 percent of our food is directly dependent on bee pollination, while the other 65 percent is indirectly dependent. If bee pollination suddenly ceased, it’s estimated around $16 billion worth of crops would be affected in the United States alone.
And over the past few decades, beekeepers and entomologists have noticed massive drop-offs in bee populations globally. In a matter of a single year, states like Oklahoma lost as much as 85 percent of beehives due to colony collapse. According to the U.S. Dept. of Agriculture, a third of all bee colonies have died each year since 2006. So, what exactly is causing this apiological pandemic?