Endangered species diversity. Overburdened ecosystems. Too much pesticide in the groundwater and in the air: The world urgently needs more sustainable agriculture. This transformation is possible, as proven by the growing number of innovative approaches – such as the Robotic Weeding System, or Rowesys for short, developed at ETH Zurich. This project shows that forgoing chemicals that kill weeds, fungi, and pests does not mean forfeiting profits. The prototypes of Rowesys are especially suitable for use in sugar beet fields, which require very intensive weed control. Whereas other solutions only concentrate on reducing pesticides, for example by means of more accurate spraying methods, the robot makes the use of herbicides obsolete. It pulls the weeds out of the soil between the rows of plants, makes a turn at the end of the field, and continues along the next row. The autonomous robot can even handle mud or rocks in its path. Pascal Lieberherr, initiator of the project and a masters’ student in Robotics, Systems, & Control at ETH Zurich, became aware of the challenges in the food chain during his apprenticeship in food processing. Today, he is particularly interested in a key question: How can we feed humankind without burdening the nature of our planet?
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