Carbon Robotics Laser Weeder

This machine from Carbon Robotics has been getting some very favorable reviews from larger scale growers. Reported to be nearly sold out for 2023 orders.

I saw this machine in July or so in north central Iowa for a demo. It is the most effective robot weeder I have seen - it can weed grass out of onions with enough training. However, Carbon Robotics is not working on autonomy, as you can see… the machine has a tractor hitch. It can move 2-3 miles an hour once the AI is trained, which takes 12 hours to model a field. They are sold out for 2022, and I’m not surprised to hear they are almost sold out for 2023. The price tag was $1.2 million dollars, and if you had two running hard you could do a thousand acres a week.

I’m disappointed however that they are refusing to sell to service providers - that also means cooperatives I guess. They only want to sell direct. I guess we’ll eventually see second-hand machines become available, but the practice of selling expensive machines only to very big farms is disappointing because in the Midwest, we’re going to be challenged with mechanics and engineering labor. I’d also like to see more farmers using high tech machinery, but if they have to buy it outright the risk is horrible.

I believe that Carbon Robotics started out working on the development of a fully autonomous unit. However, since California has a ban in place on autonomous agricultural vehicles, the development of a tractor-mounted implement might be more logical, provided that California is representative of a very large market for this type of tool. While I believe that we’ll see fully autonomous agricultural machinery become more and more popular in the coming years, I’ve also heard feedback from growers that the impatience for switching from tractor-mounted implements to fully autonomous machines isn’t quite there yet. For example, the labor savings afforded by procuring a tractor-mounted “intelligent” automated weeding machine that cuts down or eliminates the need for intra-row hand weeding is far greater than those savings in labor afforded by procuring an autonomous tractor (i.e., the difference between eliminating the need for a whole team of labors for hand weeding vs. eliminating one tractor operator). In addition, in my experience working with other automated tractor-mounted weeding implements, tools may require adjustment by a skilled technician throughout their operation. Therefore, it’s nice to have someone in the tractor cab to keep an eye on the machine’s function, ensuring that it’s operating correctly. I agree entirely @munjeli, I’d love to see these tools become more accessible to more farmers, either through cooperatives or perhaps by companies coming out with models that are less expensive and better suited for small-scale farms.