Weedkilling robot being trialled in countryside

A robot that can identify weeds from among other plants and precision-spray them with herbicide is being trialled on farms in the Peak District.

The Ibex robot. Image: Ibex Automation
The Ibex robot. Image: Ibex Automation

The Ibex project announced the start of fully autonomous trials of their extreme mobility agricultural robot, which will drive itself around steep grassland dairy and sheep farms identifying and destroying weeds.

Co-funded by the UK's innovation agency, Innovate UK, Ibex robots aim to be precise, like human sprayers. They reduce fuel costs and labour usage for farmers while massively reducing the environmental impact caused by bulk herbicide spraying. The robot is expected to cost about the same as an ATV.

The Ibex robot is tasked with identifying and destroying encroaching weeds on remote hillsides that are expensive to spray manually or too dangerous to drive on with a tractor or quad bike. It can safely traverse slopes up to 45 degrees through mud and thick vegetation, including bracken.

The robot is aware of its surroundings and can operate for up to a day away from its home base. It is also able to pull heavy implements, meaning it could be used to complete some farm tasks.

It is the latest in a series of robotic developments in horticulture and agriculture, with robot mower sales climbing steadily and nurseries looking at using robots in their glasshouses. The agricultural robot market is expected to explode, topping £16bn by 2020.

"Ibex is the first agricultural robot designed to tackle extreme agricultural environments such as the Yorkshire hill farms," said Dr Charles Fox, project manager of Ibex at Hunshelf Hall Farm.

"Taking the concept beyond university labs and overcoming extreme terrain mobility limitations, we designed and built Ibex to military standards, to go where other vehicles can't operate and to tackle a real world problem affecting many farmers around the UK. We have a very interested and active user group of local farmers and we're continually using their advice."

Ibex is due to complete user and autonomous trials later this year.

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