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Scientists invent radical new method to help farmers seek and destroy 100,000 weeds per hour: 'We can kill these weeds'

"The machine is thinking, it's learning, it's understanding what it's seeing."

LaserWeeder, Scientists invent radical new method to help farmers

Photo Credit: u/bufonia1 / Reddit

The stubborn weed — a bane to farmers everywhere — now has a high-tech foe that combines artificial intelligence and lasers. 

The machine can zap 100,000 weeds per hour in a farming-meets-Terminator scenario for pesky undergrowth. (Hasta la vista, crabgrass.)

The LaserWeeder was built by Seattle's Carbon Robotics, and it could revolutionize the way farmers protect their crops from weeds. An obvious advantage is a lack of chemicals, as some herbicides are being studied by the government after links to human health risks. Speed and efficiency are also perks.

A video of the machine, posted to r/Permaculture on Reddit, shows bursts of lights under the contraption as it slowly moves across a field, leaving little pops of smoke, with the remnants of weeds turned to crisps by laser beams. 

The process, while visually impressive, is also backed by results. The company said it kills weeds with precise computing that differentiates them from crops, scorching the unwanted growth in a microsecond while leaving the soil and food plants unharmed. 

"We can kill these weeds. And we can do it with the use of our computer vision ... which allows us to in real time identify what's a weed, what's a crop … and kill the weeds," Carbon Robotics founder Paul Mikesell told Forbes. 

NBC News visited a 2,000-acre farm in California as part of a story on what the reporter said is a $1.2 million machine.

"The machine is thinking, it's learning, it's understanding what it's seeing," Mikesell said in the clip, also posted on his company's website

The lasers can zap plants too small for human hands to grasp, disrupting them on the cellular level. LaserWeeder can recognize 40 crops and twice as many weeds. 

The onboard AI can even learn the difference between food crops, like corn and onions, and remove one of them if the field is rotating to a different plant, according to the Forbes report. 

Essentially, it can say, "it's onion time; let's kill the carrots," Mikesell said in the story. 

The news could ramp up fears about computers taking jobs from humans. The machine can work around the clock in most weather conditions. But not many humans want the weed-pulling work, according to the farmer interviewed by NBC, who said finding workers is his biggest problem.  

And a labor union official in the clip said he is on board with tech that makes the job safer, less physically demanding, and better paying — as long as it doesn't replace people. 

In that case, United Farm Workers representative Antonio De Loera-Brust told NBC, "We welcome it. Our concern is automation will allow employers to basically discard [farm laborers]."

Mikesell said his machine is just the start of the AI "wave" that will impact farming, telling NBC that LaserWeeder has the computing power of "24 Teslas."

Even with all that said, one Redditor is still betting on Mother Nature over The Terminator

"I can't wait until the weeds become resistant to laser beams in the future," the Redditor commented. "Humanity will never be able to beat mother nature at her own game." 

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