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

Emerging Science Note/Weed-Killing Robots

Air Date: Week of

University of Illinois graduate student Hong Young Jeon with the solar-powered robot. (Photo: University of Illinois.)

Jennifer Percy reports on the new robo-weed whacker. It’s a solar powered robot that kills weeds and could cut the use of herbicides.


PERCY: Somewhere in the Illinois countryside, a killer is on the loose. They say he has 20-20 vision, uses GPS navigation and kills his victims with a single deadly blow.

But don’t worry, he’s just a weed killer. Agricultural engineers at the University of Illinois built a search-and-destroy robot designed to roam farm fields and hunt down problematic weeds. The robot is two feet tall, is powered by solar panels, and can travel up to three miles an hour. It’s equipped with a speedy computer, an 80-gigabyte hard drive, and even has a wireless Internet connection. The computer helps identify a plant’s features, letting the robot know what is and isn’t a weed. When it finds a weed, it snips it with his robotic arm and dabs a bit of herbicide on the cut stem.

University of Illinois graduate student Hong Young Jeon with the solar-powered robot.
(Photo: University of Illinois.)

Currently, herbicide is applied either from airplanes or through irrigation systems. Engineers hope replacing this equipment with lots of tiny solar-paneled robots will reduce the use of harmful chemicals and make the farm more energy-efficient. But researchers stressed that the robot is still a prototype and is quite costly. So don’t expect your fields to be getting greener anytime soon.

That’s this week’s Note on Emerging Science, I’m Jennifer Percy.



University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign’s Department of Engineering


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