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Amanda Little

Farm Robots Will Solve Many of Our Food Worries

Machines bristling with cameras and controlled by artificial intelligence are bringing supernatural precision to weeding, harvesting and fertilizing.

Autonomous tractors are only the beginning.

Autonomous tractors are only the beginning.

Photographer: Patrick T. Fallon/AFP

A robot army is beginning its march across rural America, promising to transform the future of food. Twenty-five intelligent machines were dispatched last month to the Midwest and the Mississippi Delta, where they will advance over newly planted fields at 12 miles an hour, annihilating baby weeds.

Produced by John Deere and created by the startup Blue River Technology, these robotic weeders look much like standard industrial sprayers at first glance, but each is rigged with an intricate system of 36 cameras and a mass of tiny hoses. They use computer vision to distinguish between crops and weeds and then deploy with sniper-like precision tiny jets of herbicide onto the weeds — sparing the crop and ending the common practice of broadcast-spraying chemicals across billions of acres.