Produce growers in Arizona and California are being introduced to the futuristic world of George Jetson as robots and artificial intelligence replace labor crews used to rogue weeds from lettuce, cauliflower, and other vegetable crops.
Salinas, Calif.-based FarmWise is a service company with a robotic weeding machine capable of rouging weeds at speeds of one-to-two miles per hour. This eliminates the need for expensive hand crews or chemical herbicides.
The FarmWise weeding machine is part of a service FarmWise provides. Unlike some companies that sell the machines, FarmWise offers a business model that provides weeding services, freeing the grower from having to own and maintain a machine.
The Titan FT35 is the third generation of machines developed by FarmWise. Company Chief Executive Officer Sebastien Boyer said testing on previous generations of machine took place over the past several years. The newest generation of machine is being used commercially in California and Arizona.
The machine uses artificial intelligence to learn the various crops by studying the plant structure, according to Sal Espinoza, regional manager with FarmWise. Once the computer successfully learns the stem structure of the produce plant, the ability to cull weeds is simple. This process can take a few months of machine learning to get it right, Boyer said.
The machines can be outfitted with as many as six weeders. These are the rows of internal components that contain the metal knives that cut through the soil and rogue weeds as cameras track the vegetation and the AI of the onboard computer determines whether the plants are the planted produce, or weeds.
Boyer said his long-term goal is to find additional ways to mechanize the manual labor and tedious tasks performed by human hands. Through the machine learning the AI can distinguish cauliflower, celery, broccoli, and cabbage. Other crops including tomatoes and pepper are being perfected.
The company's current business model is focused on providing services to produce growers in the desert region of southern California and Arizona after an inaugural run in the Salinas Valley. Boyer said he is also looking at European markets to expand his machine weeding technology.