Laser-powered robot weeder zaps without poison

Company building better weeder nets big bucks for a next-gen agricultural solution.

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Carbon Robotics

An autonomous laser-powered weeder is attracting big green from investors. Carbon Robotics recently announced it secured $27 million in Series B financing to help in its quest to eliminate weeds without herbicides.

Weeds are a blight to gardens but an even bigger scourge for commercial food production. It's estimated that weeds cause a 10% loss in crop yields overall, amounting to 200 million tons per year. And, if left uncontrolled, weeds can result in 100% crop loss. Robots can help.

"This investment further validates our mission to create tools that utilize technology to address farmers' toughest problems," says Paul Mikesell, CEO and founder of Carbon Robotics. "Weeding is one of the biggest challenges farmers face, especially with the rise of herbicide-resistant weeds and increasing interest in organic and regenerative methods. This investment round will enable us to scale our operations to meet the increasing demand for this technology. Additionally, this funding will allow our team to continue to innovate new products and identify revolutionary ways to apply technology to agriculture." 

The funding will accelerate Carbon Robotics' growth, including scaling the production of the Autonomous Weeder, the only laser-powered weed elimination robot commercially available. The Autonomous Weeder utilizes high-powered lasers and computer vision to eliminate 100 000 weeds per hour without disrupting the soil, reducing the need for traditional weeding methods such as chemicals, tiling, or manual labor.  

The company has already sold out of its 2021 models and 2022 models, and the new round brings the company's total funding to $36 million.

"The already demanding task of weeding has only gotten harder for farmers to manage as more herbicide-resistant weeds develop and the cost of herbicides increases," said Cameron Borumand, general partner at FUSE, a venture firm. "Carbon Robotics has built a game-changing solution to solve one of the biggest problems in agriculture. Farmers have been innovative and resourceful in addressing this problem so far. Still, they deserve the best technology to help them execute one of the most important jobs in the world -- putting food on people's tables." 

As opposed to blunt methods like herbicides, which lead to resistant strains and can impact the food supply, Carbon is focusing on precision. By leveraging artificial intelligence and laser technology, the company's technology consists of a largely autonomous mobile robot powered by diesel-hydraulics. In other words, this is not a garden toy. The system utilizes lidar for safety scanning to protect workers and systems in the field. 

The system stays within a geofence, but it spots the furrows within the field and drives between them. The actual weed zapping is done by way of an array of 150 watt high powered CO2 lasers. Each laser utilizes cameras and other optic sensors for targeting control. The system relies on deep learning computer vision algorithms to identify weeds from crops, a massively challenging undertaking that Carbon seems to have cracked.

"Carbon Robotics is uniquely positioned to address critical issues affecting farmers, including the rise of superweeds and the decrease of available labor," said Erik Benson, managing director of Voyager Capital, which participated in the round.

There are currently 263 herbicide-resistant species across 71 countries. The need for a better weed solution has led to big demand, and Carbon has secured a number of contracts from major growers, which has helped prove the business case for investors.