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'Adorable' farm robot reduces unhealthy chemical usage by as much as 70% — here's the tech making it possible

"A definitively sustainable superior solution."

"A definitively sustainable superior solution."

Photo Credit: Maschio Gaspardo

The use of pesticides, herbicides, and fungicides is fairly ubiquitous in commercial farming — but the environmental consequences of these poisonous chemicals can be massive

To avoid the need for fungicides, one Italian equipment manufacturer has invented a robot that patrols vineyards, blasting fungi and mildew with Ultraviolet C (UV-C) radiation, as reported by Electrek. 

The ICARO X4 farm robot, developed by Maschio Gaspardo, autonomously rolls itself around,  using smart tech to determine where to dispense its bacteria-killing radiation. Maschio Gaspardo said it can reduce one vineyard's fungicide usage by up to 70%, Electrek reported.

"Applying UV-C rays of a specific wavelength to the plant triggers a biological mechanism that stimulates the plant's immune defenses. The UV-C rays also break down the DNA of pathogens such as powdery mildew, downy mildew and botrytis, preventing them from developing on the plant," the robot's maker explained, per World FIRA, where the product was showcased in February.  

The robot has 16 patented elements, according to the World FIRA site. It is driven by electric motors — reducing pollution associated with running it — but also has a backup diesel motor, allowing it to work for up to 72 hours consecutively, per Electrek. 

The use of agricultural fungicides (and pesticides and herbicides) can have widespread consequences on the environment. Runoff into nearby waterways can harm local wildlife, and the European Environment Agency has found links between human exposure to chemical pesticides and an increased risk of chronic illnesses such as cancer and heart, respiratory and neurological diseases.

"Using fewer pesticides is a crucial step towards long-term sustainable farming, and if you can do that with a range-extended electric farm bot that happens to also be super adorable? So much the better," Electrek wrote. "The odds that it will irradiate a random Italian wall lizard and turn it into some kind of monstrous Godzilla creature are probably minimal, too … right?"

"It's great when good wine is made using less chemicals. A definitively sustainable superior solution," wrote one Electrek commenter.

The company told Electrek that five ICARO X4s are already in operation in France and Italy. Each one costs €115,000 (around $124,500).

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