Ecorobotix's ARA Ultra-High Precision Sprayer: A Game-Changer for sustainable crop protection
For over 50 years, spraying has been widely used in agriculture for almost all crop care operations to eliminate weeds, boost crop growth and treat infection/infestation. As farmer's demands grew for even better spraying efficiency, complex synthetic molecules were developed to selectively target weeds without harming crops. Unfortunately, they degrade into toxic residues and remain in the crop and soil. Their intensive use has led to polluted soil and water, loss of biodiversity, and a reduction in soil fertility.
Biocontrol products can offer a solution to these issues. They are derived from natural ingredients (such as vinegar and geranium) and offer effective crop treatment. These simpler molecules are assumed to be highly effective herbicides and pesticides, to degrade totally (so don't remain in the soil/environment) and to require less energy to produce (reducing the CO2 footprint). "For example, 'natural' herbicides can be used to treat weeds but can also harm the crops if they were broadly sprayed so they are best delivered by an ultra-high precision sprayer which targets individual plants (spraying only weeds but not crops)", explains Steve Tanner, CTO Ecorobotix. The products can be used both in conventional farming and bio/organic farming. However, formal homologation of these biocontrol products is still ongoing for use in organic/bio farming.
The EU-funded agROBOfood project has supported the Biospray industrial challenge project to adapt Ecorobotix's ultra-high precision technology to meet the needs of biocontrol applications and to conduct field trials for three types of applications. The ARA Precision Sprayer is a revolutionary ultra-high precision sprayer with an ability to treat plant-by-plant with an unprecedented accuracy of 6x6 cm and a breakthrough in targeted herbicide delivery. ARA's technology can accurately detect, classify, and spray only individual weeds (avoiding surrounding soil and crops), thanks to its AI based plant recognition capability and ultra-high precision (UHP). Ecorobotix's UHP-spraying solution is radically different from conventional and spot-spraying herbicide application, making it more efficient and more cost-effective solution which can be used for both selective and non-selective herbicides.
Sugar beet was selected as the crop for the trials because few chemical synthetic herbicidal active ingredients are available today and further reductions are expected in the coming years. Therefore, the Biospray project targeted three crop care applications in sugar beet: selective application of pelargonic acid (organic herbicide), azadirachtin and spintor (two organic insecticides). The field test results across two seasons showed satisfactory weeding results and a reduction of insecticide use. Furthermore, herbicide savings of ~70-95% can be made using ARA's Ultra-High Precision Sprayer. More agronomic tests are needed to validate the exact efficiency of these new biocontrol products and fine-tune machine performance for this use-case.
Although the project started with AVO, an autonomous robot with ultra-high precision spot spraying technology, a change has been made which led to the development of the ARA ultra-high precision sprayer, which is 3x the size of AVO and is towed behind a tractor. "With ARA, AVO's spot spraying technology has been improved with higher precision and faster speed of operation. A towed sprayer is also easier for farmers to use and more economical." explains Steve Tanner.
In summary, ARA's Ultra-High Precision Sprayer is the future of sustainable selective and non-selective herbicide application and is a game-changer for the agricultural industry. Its ultra-high precision technology, combined with its ability to detect, classify and spray individual weeds, reduces costs and enhances sustainability. The Biospray project has proven its potential, and we are excited to continue working towards the goal of efficient, environmental-friendly and sustainable crop protection solutions.
Please note that ARA is commercially available and in use across the EU.