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Robotics Hardware Technology

Roomba Inventor Launches 'Tertill', a Weed-Killing Robot For Your Garden 116

mcpublic writes: iRobot veteran and Roomba co-inventor, Joe Jones is a modest man with a big mission: to create robots that make agriculture more efficient, less tedious, and yes, maybe even one day feed the world. After a decade at Harvest Automation building greenhouse robots, his new team at Franklin Robotics has developed Tertill, an affordable, waterproof, solar-powered robot that continuously whacks weeds around your yard. MIT Technology Review calls Tertill "a Roomba for your garden." Today the Kickstarter campaign went live and already they are well on the way to their goal. According to the Kickstarter campaign, Tertill is solar powered, chemical free, waterproof and Bluetooth compatible. It doesn't actually pull the weeds from your garden, instead it uses a "spinning string trimmer" to trim the weeds down to ground level. Since Tertill will be trimming weeds daily, the company says the weeds will eventually run out of nutrients to continue growing, and therefore will die and decompose. How does it know what's a weed and what's a plant? "A plant tall enough to touch the front of Tertill's shell activates a sensor that makes the robot turn away. A plant short enough to pass under Tertill's shell, though, activates a different sensor that turns on the weed cutter. Because Tertill's approach is height-based, put one of the provided plant collars around short plants until they are tall enough for Tertill to recognize. When Tertill approaches the collar, it will recognize it and turn away."
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Roomba Inventor Launches 'Tertill', a Weed-Killing Robot For Your Garden

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  • I've been looking at robot lawnmowers recently. They require a bit more fuss than standard indoor robot vacs in that you need to lay guide borders and have outdoor power going to them.

    That said, they're reasonably economical if viewed over a two year period vs a gardener. The downside is though - just mowing. So you're still left doing the weeding etc. yourself (or paying extra for a gardener).

    Next step - add me a feature that can detect dog dirt and deal with it too. I would pay a lot for an outdoor-
    • Re:Sold! (Score:5, Funny)

      by Togden ( 4914473 ) on Wednesday June 14, 2017 @05:18AM (#54615667)

      I would pay a lot for an outdoor-does-it-all device.

      I believe you can train a child/wife for this.

      • by mccalli ( 323026 )
        Taking your comment po-faced (which yeah, I shouldn't be doing...) actually, I have been asking my children to help out more in the garden right now. For straight mowing it's easy, for hedge trimming I do the hedges and they load into the bins.

        But weeding? Weeding is a bit more awkward and is rarely done by anybody with any great diligence. I also back on to a farmer's field, so I get a lot of stuff making its way over. Yeah - weeding for an inexpensive price I can see happening.

        As I say, only real tr
        • Re:Sold! (Score:5, Informative)

          by mccalli ( 323026 ) on Wednesday June 14, 2017 @05:29AM (#54615693) Homepage
          Aah - and immediately I post, I find the answer in one of the Kickstarter FAQs:

          Will Tertill work on my lawn?
          Tertill is designed for home vegetable and flower gardens. Because it uses a hieght based approach, it is not suitable for use on grass.


          OK, sold status rescinded. I need something that would handle grass, and I suspect many more people would as well.
          • Just based on how it works it'd be hard to se how it would work for lawn weeds even if it could recognize them. You can't just go to town on your dandelions with a line trimmer without tearing up the grass. I have found that if you get tired of spraying that 'stand up weeders' or 'grandpa's weeder' type tools work very well on dandelions and thistles.
            • Monoculture lawns simply need to be discouraged. Over infestation with dandelions is poor ground cover, but grass with patches of clover and Holly and some dandelions is good ground cover and attractive. Huge zones of monoculture grass are death zones. It's people trying to extend the huge zone of life-absence that a 'clean' house represents to the outdoors.

              When people drenched the whole world around themselves with chemicals, they aren't doing themselves a favor.

              • Yeah I don't enforce a monoculture... I leave the clover and random grasses alone, but the dandelions will crowd out the other plants and then encourage erosion in my yard if I don't thin them out. So I've been pulling them lately instead of spraying, and it has worked very well. Your post does make me laugh a little to myself thinking about the pest control guys that come door to door, advising that I contract them because a neighbor had carpenter bees and I clearly have spiders. That the latter probabl
      • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

        by Anonymous Coward

        I would pay a lot for an outdoor-does-it-all device.

        I believe you can train a child/wife for this.

        You obviously never had a wife or child. Getting, training and keeping them is a lot harder and more expensive than a robotic device.

        Sadly, i doubt the robotic gardener will be successful. Not because it's a bad idea, but due to simple economics.

        It will be manufactured by whatever Chinese sweatshop gives him the lowest price and the resulting product will be low quality garbage. Not to mention the millions of their own cheap knock-offs they will sell. Robotic gardeners will get a bad reputation and quic

      • Obviously you have neither!

      • I would pay a lot for an outdoor-does-it-all device.

        I believe you can be trained by a child/wife for this.

        FTFY.

      • I would pay a lot for an outdoor-does-it-all device.

        I believe you can train a child/wife for this.

        My kids love to "help" in the garden. The biggest problem is they get overly enthusiatic, and pull up nice plants when weeding. As for the wife, I always say, she's not a farmer's wife, I'm a farmer's husband. She does the bulk of the planting, weeding, etc.

    • by Salgak1 ( 20136 )

      Heck. at least a robotic gardener. Yes, I know about FarmBot. It's still small-scale, and limited to a single "box" garden. Ideally, a small robotic device that would seed, feed, and weed multiple types of plants Pest control would be a nice add-on ability. For a first-flight device, this looks interesting. but the 9 square meter range would tend to limit its' usability for any serious gardening, be it for flowers or for food.

      • by arth1 ( 260657 )

        For a first-flight device, this looks interesting. but the 9 square meter range would tend to limit its' usability for any serious gardening, be it for flowers or for food.

        That doesn't quite cover the home acre...
        I'm also not sure how it deals with things like anthills, rabbit holes, sprinklers, toys, tree roots, newspapers and ponds. Do you have to lay down a fence around all of those?

    • I had a robomower a number of years ago... honestly the greatest thing I ever bought. Did a fantastic job and totally automated a job I hated. My problem at the time was it broke down after a season. Luckily I had bought at Costco , so returned and got a new one... which was fantastic, then broke down after a season. That one was returned for a refund as Costco strangely enough stopped carrying them.

      At the time they were $1800 and for that price I didn't think that a major servicing was reasonable.

      • Mine (also from costco) is still going strong. Have needed to replace the battery packs, but any decent battery place can do that for you.

      • by mccalli ( 323026 )
        Interesting. I'm in the UK and the prices vary enormously. I was thinking of this one [flymo.com], which is relatively cheap.

        However I also had a person come round from a robot mower specialist, Autolawn [autolawn.co.uk]. They recommended one about double the price, and said the reason was reliability. That seems to tie in with what you're saying.

        In my case I'd also need to get outside power fitted, and in two lawns as well. The main problem for me though would be the dogs - the garden needs manual clearing, and a lot of it, whic
  • by Anonymous Coward on Wednesday June 14, 2017 @05:13AM (#54615647)

    But we're trying to grow the weed!

    • You kid, but some people grow milkweed because we got so good at killing it.
    • by ls671 ( 1122017 )

      Exactly what my nephew asked me to post for him.

    • Because Tertill's approach is height-based, put one of the provided plant collars around short plants until they are tall enough for Tertill to recognize. When Tertill approaches the collar, it will recognize it and turn away.

      In the past, when weed and collar were used together, seizure was typically close behind.

  • by Anonymous Coward

    Could give it a greasy italian accent too. "Ay-oH! weed ovah heee. Boom, i aint seen nothin"

  • by Dog-Cow ( 21281 ) on Wednesday June 14, 2017 @05:24AM (#54615683)

    I have a yard that is nothing but weeds. I need a robot that treats anything taller than it as a weed.

    • by AmiMoJo ( 196126 )

      Serious question: What is the best way to clear an overgrown garden? Especially if you have pets, which makes RoundUp problematic to use.

      Most people suggest pulling roots, but that is a lot of work.

      • I've found the fastest way is to cut them at the roots then rake them up. I've used an action hoe [lowes.com] to clear out more than one backyard that has overgrown weeds. It acts as a blade that goes just under the surface, you can then rake up the weeds (or however you collect seasonal leaves) and toss them. Since you are killing them at the root, they don't come back. Though whatever seeds are left *may* grow new weeds.

        • by AmiMoJo ( 196126 )

          Thanks. Not too worried about fast, but that certainly seems effective. I've been trying vinegar out too, it seems to work. I will cover it afterwards, no desire to plant anything else there.

      • rototill it.
      • Really clearing? Tillers are pretty good at that once you've cut everything to the ground. Then you can do what AC suggests and tarp it to kill everything.
  • Will I hafta put a collar around every blade of grass?

  • that laugh at weedkillkers. That stuff can even dislodge concrete.

  • by Anonymous Coward

    Tom Selleck smashed it in the opening scene... oh and a cute blonde held one over her head.

  • by Anonymous Coward

    My weed isn't in my garden, it's in my basement.

  • by dabadab ( 126782 ) on Wednesday June 14, 2017 @06:30AM (#54615889)

    As far as I can see this assumes that whatever you have planted is well-spaced, doesn't get bushy and weeds are well-behaved and don't grow too close to your vegetables. (In my actual garden none of these assumptions are true.)

    Also, there's the problem that it can maintain a garden up to 9(!) square meters.

    It looks a lot more like a science fair project than something actually usable.

    • I agree, you'd thing a Roomba co-inventor would have a larger budget than that device reflects.

      • +1 They must have already blown through many times their $120k goal. Two years of R&D can add up.

        I wonder if they are just using kickstarter as cheap advertisement for their target demographic.

    • +1
      some more unrealistic assumptions:
      -soil is firm and even enough to drive on and not cake wheels with dirt
      -plants never grow big enough to shade the paths the robot drives on
      -weeds are small but try to grow tall, there are no creeping vine type weeds.

      To meet the requirements of enough space for the thing to travel, and enough sunlight for it to power itself, you essentially need to use your real estate very inefficiently. Can only plant a fraction of the density you normally would.

      • by Anonymous Coward

        So I backed the project, even with the potential issues. Here is my thinking in regards to our vegetable garden, which we mostly plant in rows

        I won't use it right after the garden is planted, there are too many small plants coming up, plus then it is spring, nice out outside and the garden is "new" so weeding isn't much of a chore.

        After several weeks(about mid June), many of the plants should be tall enough, it is getting hotter out, I'm getting sick of weeding, the dirt between the rows is getting somewhat

    • by Ramze ( 640788 )

      Agreed. This is not an intelligent weed-picker. It doesn't even pick weeds, it merely cuts them and hopes they don't grow back taller than its threshold to detect them as a weed before the next cutting, and even then... it prays that the weed will simply die from lack of energy because its leaves and stalk keep getting snipped.

      It also has no concept of where it's going -- relying on a simple logic of move until you hit something tall enough to register as a plant or wall, then turn and move some more.

    • by AK Marc ( 707885 )
      The garden size can be larger, but the performance may degrade with larger gardens. And 9 square meters is pretty large. It's not for a lawn, but the flower garden in front or the vegetable garden in back.
      • I realize this isn't normal for many areas, but my vegetable garden is probably a bit more than 1.5 acres. That's a bit large for non-commercial, but it isn't the largest personal garden in my area. Imma need a bunch of them.

    • It sounds totally useless for gardens, but like it would be a cool device for clearing a nice flat walk of weeds growing up between the stones. That's a severely limited market, though. My walk is lumpy, for example.

    • It looks a lot more like a science fair project than something actually usable.

      That depends on your garden. Sure in my garden the valuables are planted all over the place in a general mess, but there are a significant number of people who are now opting for the "vegetable patch" approach of a neat, organised and perfectly arranged garden to provide home farming. I look over the fence and see a garden that looks like a science fair project would be quite suitable for it.

      Except for the rosemary, that is growing out of control.

  • by Bruinwar ( 1034968 ) <bruinwar@nOspam.hotmail.com> on Wednesday June 14, 2017 @06:33AM (#54615897)

    In my tomato garden I use cheap landscape fabric with 6" or more of straw over it. This works well & the weeds that can get through I can pull while watering.

    Maybe an industrial version of this could help farmers with weeds like Pigweed [wikipedia.org]. No more buying special seeds & spraying chemicals that the weeds will always develop immunity to. Interesting podcast from NPR's Planet Money: Pigweed Killer [npr.org]

  • by TheCarp ( 96830 ) <sjc@car p a n e t . n et> on Wednesday June 14, 2017 @06:45AM (#54615929) Homepage

    What uses is this in a "Garden"? Kill plants by height? That is useful in one instance only....when you are growing grass.

    Also, I like dandelions, what good is a robot that kills those? Nope, wake me up when it identifies plants before killing them, then you have something I might care about.

  • I dont want it to activate a trimmer and cut it. I want it to roll a wet rag on it sprayed with either a broad leaf weed killer or roundup. Dont spray. Right now it is height based, no vision sensor. So roundup is enough. Once it recognizes weeds from grass, it can use broad leaf weed killer that does not kill the grass.
    • I dont want it to activate a trimmer and cut it. I want it to roll a wet rag on it sprayed with either a broad leaf weed killer or roundup. Dont spray. Right now it is height based, no vision sensor. So roundup is enough. Once it recognizes weeds from grass, it can use broad leaf weed killer that does not kill the grass.

      What advantage do you get from chemicals? It adds to both the cost and maintenance. It also is likely less healthy for both you and the nearly plants. Assuming it works reliably, cutting the plants daily would work effectively as it is depriving the weed of the photosynthesis it needs to survive. I see no advantage of chemicals over this assuming it works as claimed.

  • Hmmm... if you've got enough open soil between your garden plants for this thing to wander, then you're gardening wrong! And if a weed appears right next to a desirable plant - which is all too frequent - what then? Also never mind that it's useless for a weed-filled grass lawn, apparently? What was wrong with mulch, which works fine when applied correctly?

  • Isn't that just the Internet's perfect Echo Chamber of Things? No public criticism or questioning allowed.

    • If kickstarter had some sort of mod tools, maybe it could be open. But as far as I can tell, there isn't much you can do to mod the comments on your project. That's a recipe for disaster if it's an open forum. A troll's paradise is an unmoderated forum.

      At the same time, the goal of kickstarter isn't to croudsource ideas. It's to croudsource money. The ideas and planning should be finalized far before you start a kickstarter, or you're setting yourself up for disaster. No reason to let people not in

  • by Anonymous Coward

    Most weeds do not actually require sunlight to live. The roots of most plants have their own sustenance mechanisms that can leech minerals and nutrients from the soil to sustain the plant. This is why plants have roots. Duh.

    Weeds can launch shoots from the nutrients they gather from the soil. This is why your dogs can run your centipede grass down to dirt and it will still come back. Every winter my dogs trample the centipede to dust, and every spring it comes right back.

    The weeds may not bring up shoots wh

    • Most weeds do not actually require sunlight to live. The roots of most plants have their own sustenance mechanisms that can leech minerals and nutrients from the soil to sustain the plant. This is why plants have roots. Duh.

      Weeds can launch shoots from the nutrients they gather from the soil.

      Even if this was true, the goal of weeding a garden isn't as much to kill the weeds as much as to keep the weeds from overpowering the desired plants. If the weeds remain tiny, you've effectively reached that goal regardless of whether or not the weeds are dead. If this thing works at all, I see it more useful for a flower garden than an actual garden but honestly, by the looks of it, I would expect it to get stuck the first time it rains.

  • I'm sure this weed killer thing could probably navigate around a lawn somehow with training, but identifying weeds and cutting them in a timely fashion in a device that is solar powered seems like a difficult proposition.

    I bet the amount of power required to mow, scan for weeds and recharge would not allow it to handle very large lawns. In addition, weed species are different in different climates and zones. Even grass is different in different climates and zones that affects the blades. Some grasses are

  • by RobinH ( 124750 ) on Wednesday June 14, 2017 @07:52AM (#54616161) Homepage

    Like most successful automation, it works well if you can plan the activity to suit the tool. For instance, at home I just don't buy clothes that I can't wash in a washing machine, or dishes that I can't wash in a dishwasher. Once you're willing to make compromises, then automation offers some significant advantages. In this case, if you planned your vegetable garden around this, it could work well.

    Of course people don't want to compromise. I think a major reason that Roomba's are more of a toy is people aren't willing to take the step of changing their living area to work well with a robot vacuum.

    • Like most successful automation, it works well if you can plan the activity to suit the tool. For instance, at home I just don't buy clothes that I can't wash in a washing machine, or dishes that I can't wash in a dishwasher. Once you're willing to make compromises, then automation offers some significant advantages. In this case, if you planned your vegetable garden around this, it could work well.

      Of course people don't want to compromise. I think a major reason that Roomba's are more of a toy is people aren't willing to take the step of changing their living area to work well with a robot vacuum.

      Buy a Neato. It maps the room with lidar and cleans it properly. No need to redo the house for the vacuum.

      • by RobinH ( 124750 )
        If you look at all the comments on RobotShop.com about the Neato robots, you'll see a lot of 5-star comments that say things like, "it gets stuck every so often," or "it seems to climb the sloped leg of my table" or "I really love this robot, but of course you still need to vacuum with an upright once a week." Heck I only vacuum once a week with an upright even now, so if I have to go chasing a robot vacuum around every couple days then it's definitely not saving me time, though perhaps it keeps the place
    • Yeah, but it's all about how much compromise is necessary.

      It's really not difficult to choose clothing options that are machine washable, 99% of the time. When you get into formal-wear, that changes -- but that's usually where people are willing to live with the disadvantages of having to take that tux or suit to the dry cleaners.... They're not going to wear it every day.

      Dishwasher-safe dishes? Again, not too tough to do that. I think I could safely say I'd accidentally have 90% dishwasher safe dishes if

      • by RobinH ( 124750 )
        In these cases (clothes and dishes) the manufacturers of such items have mostly made things that are compatible with those devices. On the other hand, we haven't reached a point where any furniture manufacturers are making things that are marketed as "robot vacuum compatible". Plus, if you have to buy a $500 robot vacuum every year or two, that money can get me a long way towards a weekly cleaning service that's going to do a lot more thorough job, especially in some places in the US where inexpensive (an
  • How about making a Roomba that won't smear pet shit/puke all over the room.

  • Its called a chicken. Get some for your garden.See: https://oldworldgardenfarms.com/2013/08/20/why-a-great-garden-and-raising-chickens-go-hand-in-hand/

  • He's obviously not a very good inventor if this is the best he could come up with. This is why we bought a Neato instead of an Irobot - much more intelligence. Besides, gardening is good for the soul.
  • by WaffleMonster ( 969671 ) on Wednesday June 14, 2017 @11:28AM (#54618105)

    WTF... No hyperspectral sensors /w fancy ANN fueled expert trained CV?

    We want a sentient weed terminators on wheels that works anywhere even if it requires wireless streaming to a desktop computer running fancy CUDA code to figure out what to "delete".

    This product is a crop out.

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