Robots Could Be Headed To Central Valley Farms

Jan 23, 2015

Research at UC Davis includes using fluorescent seedlings that will help a robotic cultivator target weeds.
Credit Steve Fennimore / UC Davis

Robots may soon be pulling weeds on Central Valley farms. At UC Davis researchers have received  $2.7 million dollars from the USDA to study how new technology could replace field labor. 

Automated devices pick cotton. Machines shake nut trees. But, there are a three tasks  for which farmers rely solely on humans. 

David Slaughter: "These include hand weeding, thinning and harvesting."

David Slaughter is the lead researcher working on robotic cultivators. 

David Slaughter: "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." 

Robots will identify seedlings through a fluorescent glow that will be added to crops. Anything that doesn't glow can be pulled.

Researchers say the added material 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.