Weed cutting is one of the operations that solar power plant operators look at in terms of labor saving and reducing costs. This is because weed cutting does not create income since it is not directly involved in production although the weed cutting operation affects income and safety. The situation is the same for other fields including agriculture and green space management.
When "cutting" is selected as a measure, a weed cutting version of Roomba, an indoor robot vacuum cleaner manufactured by iRobot Corp of the US, will be ideal. Like Roomba, the "robot weed cutter" moves around on the site while cutting weeds autonomously and returns to the charger when the charged capacity decreases, starting weed cutting again after being fully charged.
Autonomous robot weed cutters are being developed by various companies and government organizations to respond to future demand for such robots expected in a wide range of fields (Related story: Development project by the Ministry of Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries (MAFF)). Lawn mowers that can be used for cutting weeds on flat land and short weeds under certain conditions have already been commercialized.
Under these circumstances, Wado Sangyo Co Ltd of Hanamaki City, Iwate Prefecture, which manufactures snow blowers and grass cutters, developed a robot weed cutter that cuts weeds autonomously just like Roomba (Fig. 1, video).
It is the first robot that can be used for "weed cutting" in Japan, according to sources. The conventional models in the market are "lawn mowers," and the types of weeds that can be cut and conditions of the ground on which they can travel are limited.
The company completed the production of prototypes and plans to put the machines on the market within fiscal 2019, after repeated trials by users in various fields.
The company was founded in 1941 and boasts the largest production volume in snow blowers in Japan. The company has also been manufacturing weed cutters for about 50 years.
The company started developing weed cutters hoping to relieve workers from the burden of weed cutting, which is physically hard for workers in all fields including agriculture, takes much time and is sometimes dangerous. Weed cutting is "hard work that workers want to avoid," so the company thought it would be helpful if most of the work was performed by robots.
The number of persons engaged in agriculture is decreasing, and the aging of farmers is accelerating. It is very important that more time is available for operations such as harvesting that directly affect production, and to increase the time for rest and leisure by improving the efficiency of weed cutting.
For development of the robot weed cutter, fundamental technologies cultivated by the development of other machines, such as automatic control, battery drive and wireless communication, as well as the technologies for weed cutting machines, were incorporated.