America has always had a soft spot for robots. Whether warning Will Robinson of danger, letting Obi-Wan Kenobi know that he really was Princess Leia’s only hope or terminating/protecting John Connor, robots have long been imagined as making life better for us humans.

Clint Brauer has that kind of imagination.

A third-generation farmer from Kansas, Brauer moved to Los Angeles after graduating from Kansas State. He spent over a decade in California as a tech executive with stints at a variety of firms including Sony.

Brauer moved back to Kansas to help his family and their farm after his father was diagnosed with an illness.

“It all started when my father was diagnosed with Parkinson’s disease,” he explained, noting that the disease has been linked to a 200% – 600% increased risk in individuals when exposed to herbicides. “We believe it was caused by exposure to harmful herbicides on our farm. I left my role as an LA-based tech executive to help my family and explore ways to eliminate harmful chemicals through food production.”

His efforts to eliminate chemical use in farming did not involve robotics at the start. Brauer tried growing vegetables in greenhouses organically, but decided that it wasn’t enough.

“I wanted to make as big of an impact as possible and get chemicals out of food. I would need to adapt if I wanted to do it in large scale agriculture without tilling, plowing, disking or herbicide use,” he said.

Brauer tried a number of different things before having an epiphany. “I thought ‘What if it’s as simple as cutting?’ Weeds can’t develop a genetic resistance to being cut. I started off by cutting down common weeds in my field like marestail and pigweed.”

Robots-as-a-Service is a business model in which robotics companies offer the use of their robot devices – like the WeedBot – via a subscription-based contract vs. a purchased investment. Submitted photo

Over two consecutive seasons, he used knives and rotary mowers on weeds, cutting at a variety of different heights. He found that cutting down the weeds stopped growth just as well if not better than herbicide applications. “Learning this, I changed paces and started developing robots to mow weeds,” he said.

Taking the next step, Brauer founded GreenField Inc. in 2018. The company developed its “WeedBot” to provide Robots-as-a-Service (RaaS) for farmers. RaaS is a business model in which robotics companies offer the use of their robot devices via a subscription-based contract. This allows farmers access to new technology without having to bear the burden of expensive purchasing costs.

The water-resistant WeedBot weighs 350 lbs., is 24 inches wide and 36 inches long. It moves between rows of crops, cutting weeds at a half-inch tall or lower while moving at a top speed of about 3.5 mph. All told, a robot can cover about an acre per hour.

“On a 100-acre field, we would deploy a fleet of 10 WeedBots,” Brauer said. “In 10 hours, we would be done weeding the field.”

With everything taken into account, the WeedBot costs about $35/acre. The WeedBots typically are used to weed up to three times per season, depending on the climate.

Although the robot can be used on any farm, Brauer said it was designed for farmlands following regenerative principles where there is always a living root in the ground, cover crops are employed and no-till practices are utilized. He added that the automated nature of the robots can possibly reduce both worker hours and costs.

While his agrarian automatons were conceived with weeds in mind, Brauer sees further feasible farm work for his mechanized marvels. “There are other applications we can explore,” he said.

He is in the process of adding more capabilities to his WeedBots including micro-spraying, cover crop planting, soil sensing and nighttime operations.

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by Enrico Villamaino