While the use of autonomous tractors and other harvesting equipment is still primarily in the developmental stage, a new solar-powered, Roomba-style robot could be the first truly automated option for agriculture. Developed by the same company who unleashed the UFO-shaped robotic vacuum cleaner that continues to terrify pets throughout the land, Massachusetts-based Franklin Robotics is now looking to tackle weeding chores with the Tertill.
The weatherproof Tertill “lives” in the garden, get its power from a solar panel on its back (or shell), and wanders through the garden with four-wheel-drive, diagonal wheels and a weed eater-like plastic trim line that cuts down weeds. Tertill uses a combination of simple logic and wireless communication to distinguish desirable plant from weed.
According to Franklin Robotics, weeds are short and plants are tall. A plant tall enough to touch the front of Tertill's shell activates a sensor that makes the robot turn away. A plant short enough to pass under Tertill’s shell activates a different sensor that turns on the weed cutter. Although this approach won’t get the root at its root, the constant presence of the Tertill will ensure weeds are minimized on a daily basis. Additionally, capacitive sensors can read protective collars placed around non-weed plants to ensure they’re not cut down.
Other gyro-like sensors help the unit correct itself when encountering fences or rocks, so it doesn’t just sit and spin. A typical Tertill is engineered to accommodate a 100-square-foot garden, which should be surrounded by some sort of berm or barrier to keep the Tertill enclosed within the gardening area.
The end result is, ideally, a weedless garden without the use of chemicals. Embedded Bluetooth technology also allows for sending updates to mobile devices. The Tertill is about 5” high, 8” wide and weights just under three pounds.
The Tertill has already surpassed its Kickstarter goal of $120,000 and is expected to begin shipping in March of 2018. It is projected to sell for $225. The Roomba robotic vacuum has sold over 15 million units since their debut in 2002.