Automated Drone Takes Care Of Weeds

Commercial industrial agriculture is responsible for providing food to the world’s population at an incredibly low cost, especially when compared to most of human history when most or a majority of people would have been involved in agriculture. Now it’s a tiny fraction of humans that need to grow food, while the rest can spend their time in cities and towns largely divorced from needing to produce their own food to survive. But industrial agriculture isn’t without its downsides. Providing inexpensive food to the masses often involves farming practices that are damaging to the environment, whether that’s spreading huge amounts of synthetic, non-renewable fertilizers or blanket spraying crops with pesticides and herbicides. [NathanBuildsDIY] is tackling the latter problem, using an automated drone system to systemically target weeds to reduce his herbicide use.

The specific issue that [NathanBuildsDIY] is faced with is an invasive blackberry that is taking over one of his fields. To take care of this issue, he set up a drone with a camera and image recognition software which can autonomously fly over the field thanks to Ardupilot and a LiDAR system, differentiate the blackberry weeds from other non-harmful plants, and give them a spray of herbicide. Since drones can’t fly indefinitely, he’s also build an automated landing pad complete with a battery swap and recharge station, which allows the drone to fly essentially until it is turned off and uses a minimum of herbicide in the process.

The entire setup, including drone and landing pad, was purchased for less than $2000 and largely open-source, which makes it accessible for even small-scale farmers. A depressing trend in farming is that the tools to make the work profitable are often only attainable for the largest, most corporate of farms. But a system like this is much more feasible for those working on a smaller scale and the automation easily frees up time that the farmer can use for other work. There are other ways of automating farm work besides using drones, though. Take a look at this open-source robotics platform that drives its way around the farm instead of flying.

Thanks to [PuceBaboon] for the tip!

38 thoughts on “Automated Drone Takes Care Of Weeds

  1. It is also possible to use hyper spectral cameras with drones to identify plants which have plant diseases like smut fungis. The farmer can interact shortly and very precisely which helps reducing fungicides.

    1. Despite the rather enthusiastic review from 20 years ago, vinegar doesn’t work. It burns the leaves but doesn’t kill the roots, so the weeds just cheerfully grow back.

      And no, adding salt like the hippies tell you to doesn’t do jack either.

      1. Thank you Bob. For those worried about chemical residue. Fortification of soil with trichiderma species of fungus can the breakdown of numerous herbicides and fungicides into non hazardous compounds.

  2. Love the level of automation!

    Hardest part will be improving the vision model; just wait ’till the current model flies over someone wearing a green/floral hat and douses ’em with a nice dose of herbicide…

      1. You don’t need to kill the roots if you have an automated system that can run regularly to kill the leaves. No leaves for photosynthesis = dead weed. You could even program it to remember the spot once a weed is identified.

        1. You’d be wrong, plants survive quite well and for a long time without any leaves.

          You’ve head about winter, yeah? How do all those trees survive for months without leaves? Must be magic.

          1. That would be hibernation, and the plants use their energy reserves during this hibernation. Same thing for “cheerfully” growing back, it’s very fast.. as long as the plant has good reserves ! Second or third time, not so much.

          1. The big agricultural weed zappers are pretty cool to see in action.


            It would be pretty hard to get a drone to do it though, you need a ground connection to work properly. A wheeled robot could do it, but I’d be wary of an autonomous robot roaming around zapping everything with lethal voltages. Might as well give the robot a ray gun already.

  3. The cost of the system is easily affordable given the saving compared to mass spraying with its chemical and fuel costs. I think I also saw a drone that targeted weeds with lasers. Definitely will be the way things work in the future.

  4. “Commercial industrial agriculture is responsible for providing food to the world’s population at an incredibly low cost,”
    This low cost hides a huge environmental cost on biodiversity and ecosystems resiliency, that is similar to a debt transmitted to future generations. Insect populations collapsing is the first very noticeable effect of 70 years of spreading pesticides, which is rippling through the whole food chain, humans being at the apex. Insects biomass is by far the highest compared to any other animals, and countless of plants and other animals depend on them in sometimes very complex and intricate way. Pollination is the obvious example people may have in the mind, yet there are many many more different interactions, most are yet to be discovered. The bleak environmental and climatic future we´ve been set up since the beginning of industrialization is accelerating ever closer to a *catastrophe*.

      1. Oh the mass famine is just being kicked down the road. Building up in the background. We will still have it, and it will be much more horrible when this unsustainable system collapses.. The most humane thing we could possibly do is just have it now and return to a more manageable population, but that goes against everything that the materialist worldview holds sacred so it will not happen. Unpopular opinion: Malthus was correct the whole time.

        Fritz Haber will prove to have killed more people with his invention than any other.

        1. So between maybe killing (or not) a lot of people in a century if nothing is invented to prevent starvation OR killing a lot of people surely right now, killing people right now is the best course of action?

          Malthus was wrong all the time: productivity grow exponentially since his days, and population growth is reducing. Some countries are fearing for their future because the births are bellow sustainable levels. And population losses are more difficult to recover from than population increases: war, famine, epidemics, natural disasters are great to reduce population in dramatic ways during a time span of weeks or months. But there’s no way to dramatically increase the global population in anything less than decades.

          Look at the Nordic countries, Japan, Italy, South Korea, to name a few. Government is concerned about loss of population, not increase of it.

      2. – The climate change is becoming the driving force having the most impact on famines.
        And it´s deeply unfair because it´s hitting – for the moment – the most the populations who contributed the least to it.

        – A productive organic farming is not only possible but is also having advantages like the quality of the food produced as well as restoration of ecosystems.
        Yes it requires a complete overhaul of the farming methods

        – If we were to eat much less meat, it would be way easier to meet the food population needs while using way less pesticides. Using most of the farmed surface to produce food for cattle and poultry is nonsense.
        Yes it requires a deep change on how we feed ourselves

        1. Shri Lanka did what you suggest, IIRC 2 years ago.

          They are on the edge of starving because no fertilizer. The government responsible has been kicked to the curb. Good thing they were the only ones so gullible.

        2. Anyone that says that organic farming is possible never worked on a farm. It’s easy to say so because you heard someone saying so. I grew up on a farm. My family were from farms for generations, so I know (and all farmers too) that producing organic food is not economical, and it’s only possible because of the premium paid because of the “organic tag.”

          Organic food takes more manual labor to be produced. Manual labor costs more. Cutting down weeds is a lot slower than spraying herbicides over them. By an order of magnitude.

          Organic food wastes more produce. Pests will eat or damage part of the production, that’s unavoidable. You end up with a good fraction of things that got damaged enough for people not buy them, even if the damage is cosmetic. And that’s a waste: nature created the tomato, you spent time on it, it sucked nutrients from the soil, but goes to the trash because nobody wanted it.

          Organic production less inefficient. Without herbicides, insecticides and fertilizers you produce at most 30% of a common farm field. Agriculture depletes the soil, and you have to replenish it using “chemicals”, and the alternative is decreasing productivity every year, until you have to let the soil “rest” for some years (3-5 are common). That’s good if you have enough farmland for your family, but not for producing food for sale.

          To have enough organic food for a sizable part of our population, we need to take down every single forest, park, natural reserve, every mountain top, and make all farmland, and most people will still starve to death.

  5. Strange that blackberry plants are thought of as invasive when they are so easy to prevent. The plants dont normally spring out from nowhere as other weeds do and mostly sprawl out from the periphery of the field. which can be prevented by mowing the perimeter. Also, there’s no mention of what the actual crop was, so difficult to tell what’s really going on.

    1. While they don’t spring up from nonexistence, in areas with large swaths of blackberry, birds drop their seeds EVERYWHERE. So it does essentially spring up from seemingly nowhere.

  6. Hope they have their license and performed the necessary steps. Probably should take this article down or put a notice pointing to 107 rules

    14 CFR Part 137 applies to drones used in agricultural operations or other special aircraft operations where dangerous goods are dispensed in flight.

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