Robot stalk-er: a 3D-printed bot designed to pull weeds

There are lots of ways farmers deal with weeds, none modern, elegant, and simple. Chemicals are clearly problematic, while manually pulling out the plants is time-consuming and exhaustive; isn’t it about time someone automated the darn problem? For the Pitch Your Prototype contest from Make Magazine and Cornell University, Mike Rigsby has attempted to do just that.

“This is a serious attempt to address an agricultural problem,” Rigsby told the magazine. “I suspected that robots could handle the weeds and that the time to start working on such a solution is now, before the weeds develop further resistance to chemicals.”

Cobbled together from 3D-printed parts, three Arduino Unos, a camera, and an ultrasonic sensor, the device is currently built only to roll over carpet. “Nellie’s daughters and sons will need a heavy duty chassis that will run between rows of plants, reaching to the side to eliminate offensive,” Rigsby writes of his creation. Right now, it’s just simulating the motion of pulling out a weed proxy by its stalks.

Should he win the contest’s $5,000 prize, Rigsby plans to put the money toward building another prototype with a little more oomph; that way, he can see how well it might handle a farm’s terrain. Sorry, gardeners: Right now, Rigsby is looking to help farmers tackle troublesome weeds with growing herbicide resistance, such as Amaranthus palmeri, rather than backyard vegetable and flower patches. But if he’s successful, maybe a baby version could one day tackle the weeds threatening to overtake your azaleas.