This Autonomous Robot Can End Mass Spraying of Herbicide on Crops

ecoRobotix

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.

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Stephen Hawking's Last Warning: Superhumans May Conquer Humanity

CRISPR, the new technology that allows scientists to genetically edit our DNA, will be the end of normal humans, according to Stephen Hawking in his final publication Brief Answers to the Big Questions.

Before his passing, Hawking penned a series of essays on his final research, which included a few cautionaries for our future. He prefaced his musings with an upbeat recollection of his storied career, but his warnings proved incredibly depressing. Namely, the fact that he believed genetically modified superhumans will eventually rule our species, elbowing out the rest of us naturally born plebeians.

Of course, these observations went beyond Hawking’s traditional field of study, though they were corollaries to the work of an astrophysicist who aimed to define some of the deeper questions about our existence.

But whether or not you agree with his adamantly atheist, parting claim that God doesn’t exist, it’s easier to sympathize with his fear that designer humans with superior genetics may be around the corner and may exacerbate the ever-expanding crevasse of inequality in the world.

“Once such superhumans appear, there are going to be significant political problems with the unimproved humans, who won’t be able to compete,” Hawking said. “Presumably, they will die out, or become unimportant.”

Forget your fears of automation putting people out of work, superhumans will make us all obsolete anyway. But is this really a legitimate threat or another dystopian, sci-fi fantasy? We’d like to have more faith in humanity and believe it’s the latter.

CRISPR is certainly making leaps and bounds in genetic engineering, specifically to cure untreatable disease and prevent genetic mutations, but many are worried the technology will soon be used to create designer babies. Hawking feared this prospect, despite the fact that its premise is based on distant, unproven possibilities and a lack of faith that those with access to the technology actually have ethics.

Hawking also fails to recognize the fact that the same science and ethics that created the technology which allowed him to continue his work – and continue to live for that matter – is what lead to CRISPR in the first place. Put simply, the potential biomedical breakthroughs from CRISPR technology are likely to prevail over the pessimistic dystopian possibilities he put forward.

 

For more on how technology is allowing us to become superhuman in a less dystopian way, check out this documentary with Dr. Jordan Nguyen, Becoming Superhuman:

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