Sustainable Blog

Weeding robots

[Blue River Technology](http://bluerivert.com/what_were_up_to)

If you’ve ever had to manually weed your lawn, you know it’s backbreaking labor. Imagine the daunting task faced by farmers who own hundreds or thousands of acres that need to be weeded. It’s no wonder herbicides have become ubiquitous in large scale farming operations. And for organic farmers who cannot use herbicides, people must be employed to pick the weeds by hand. But there may be another way!

Blue River Technology just announced that it has raised $3.1 million in seed funding to commercialize a weed-pulling robot. Blue River created the robot as an alternative to herbicides. With over $25 billion spent each year on herbicides this represents the potential of a significant savings for farmers and would help keep hazardous chemicals out of the environment.

Professors from UC Davis and Stanford have been working with the team from Blue River to develop the current iteration of the ‘lettuce bot’. This robot can move among the fields and determine where the weeds are, using machine learning algorithms. When it finds a weed it injects it with enough fertilizer to kill it – no herbicides needed.

The seed funding for Blue River’s project is coming from Khosla Ventures, a venture capital incubator. Founder Vinod Khosla recently told Co.Exist,

“With the global population expected to increase to 9.5 billion by 2050, increasing food production in a sustainable way is going to be one of the great challenges of this century. Blue River Technology’s solution will not only be more cost effective than current solutions, but has the potential to reduce U.S. herbicide use by over 250 million pounds a year.”

It has become increasingly clear that we need to rethink our current agricultural systems. Agriculture has recently been dubbed the ‘new inconvenient truth’, and there are many great minds working on creative ways to feed the billions of people on our planet. We’ve also seen the recent rise of invasive ‘super weeds’ that are resistant to herbicides and are inundating America’s farmlands.

All of these challenges require innovative solutions. Inventions like this weed killing robot, GMO’s that cure disease and edible food packaging embody the kind of out-of-the-box thinking that we will need to solve our current food insecurity and create a more sustainable America.

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By the Numbers

Currently 50 million households suffer from food insecurity, meaning that family members cannot always meet their basic food needs.

10 million people a year could be fed through the recovery of just one-fifth of food waste.

Only 2% of food waste is composted or otherwise recycled—62% of paper is recycled.

Consumers throw out about 40% of the fresh and frozen fish they buy.

The U.S. produced 208 pounds of meat per person in 2009—60% more than Europe.

Low income commuters spend a much higher proportion of their wages on gas—8.6% versus 2.1% at $4 per gallon.

Food prices rose 35-40 percentage points between 2002–2008.

Americans consume 25% of the world’s produced oil, but our nation holds less than 3% of the world’s proven oil reserves.

The International Energy Agency says greenhouse gas emissions rose 3.2% last year, with a 9.3% increase in China offsetting declines in the US and EU.