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Public Radio's Environmental News Magazine (follow us on Google News)

Emerging Science Note/Green Robot Thumb

Air Date: Week of

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Living on Earth’s Cynthia Graber reports that robots may help farmers reduce the use of herbicides in agriculture.


CURWOOD: Coming up: cactus rustling in the West. First, this Note on Emerging Science from Cynthia Graber.

[Allison Dean “Healthnote Theme” Living on Earth Music © 2000]

GRABER: Robots may soon help reduce herbicide use in agriculture. Scientists at the Danish Institute of Agricultural Sciences are training weed-killing robots. Right now, similar robots help clear weeds off railways and airport runways. But those machines treat anything green as a weed, so they can’t be used on crop fields.

To make their robots smarter, the Danish scientists are taking face recognition software techniques and applying them to plants. Researchers say that instead of faces, they have programmed the robot to recognize the shape of 15 weeds from descriptions such as the size and shape of the leaves.

The four-wheeled, battery-powered robot is being trained to dash around fields of Danish sugar beets, constantly scanning the ground with a camera and noting the location of weeds. Scientists plan to arm the robot with herbicide so it could administer a few drops where needed. By selectively applying the herbicide to known weeds, researchers say farmers could reduce chemical use up to 70 percent. Danish researchers are also working with colleagues at the University of California at Davis to develop a robot that will pull out the weeds, eliminating herbicides entirely.

That’s this week’s Note on Emerging Science. I’m Cynthia Graber.

CURWOOD: And you’re listening to Living on Earth.

[MUSIC: Snares & Kites “Night Window” Tricks of Trapping Inbetween Records (1999)]



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