The Tertill robot prototype

Autonomous robot to patrol gardens and kill weeds

Image credit: Franklin Robotics

A US robotics company has launched a crowdfunding campaign for a weatherproof, solar-powered robot, the Tertill (pronounced ‘turtle’), which patrols gardens and kills weeds without the use of pesticides.

Massachusetts-based Franklin Robotics counts Joe Jones among its staff: the inventor of the autonomous vacuum cleaner, Roomba. Much like the attentive, systematic Roomba, the Tertill patrols a given area, and identifies undesirable objects: in this case, weeds.

Rather than processing complex visual information to identify weeds, the robot relies on low-tech capacitive sensors to determine whether the plants it trundles into are tall (not a weed) or short enough to fit underneath its body (a weed). When a weed has been identified, it uses a spinning nylon string trimmer to slice them near the ground.

Short or young plants can be surrounded by a protective collar, which Tertill can recognise and ‘knows’ to avoid.

The Tertill is shaped much like the round, floor-hugging Roomba; it is just 12cm tall and 21cm in diameter. It has four wheels angled outwards to widen its centre of gravity. This allows it to cover rough ground and travel up and down moderate slopes.

The fully autonomous Tertill is powered by solar cells mounted on its back, and can charge in the sunlight. It is intended to run every day to completely prevent weeds from thriving, although its activity is likely to be limited on days with little sunshine.

Franklin Robotics has launched a kickstarter campaign for the robot, and has already exceeded its target of $120,000. The Tertill’s kickstarter page lists the device at $199, and its manufacturers estimate that it could become widely available by March 2018.

According to Franklin Robotics, future features for the Tertill could include a motion-triggered reaction to scare away pests such as rats, or an artificial neural network to allow it to ‘learn to distinguish between weeds and other plants through experience.

Other Franklin Robotics products include Slugtaze, a slug-repellent plant collar also created by Joe Jones. This collar creates a low-voltage barrier that slugs and snails refuse to cross, meaning that slug pellets do not have to be used.

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