Automated devices pick cotton. Machines shake nut trees. But, there are still a three tasks for which farmers rely solely on humans.
"These include hand weeding, thinning and harvesting," says UC Davis Professor David Slaughter of the Department of Biological and Agriculture Engineering.
A team led by Slaughter received a $2.7 million grant recently from the U.S. Department of Agriculture to develop a prototype for weed control.
"It might look more like a spider robot in a sense with a brain and some arms but it won't necessarily look like a humanoid," says Slaughter.
Robots will identify seedlings through a fluorescent glow that will be added to crops. Anything that doesn't glow can be pulled.
Slaughter says the added material is safe and inert and it will not involve biotechnology or genetic engineering.
Robots could be in the field by next spring moving miniature hoes through baby tomato and lettuce plants.