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Robot shoots herbicide only on weeds, reducing usage by more than 90%

Periodic Reporting for period 1 - ASTERIX (Robot shoots herbicide only on weeds, reducing usage by more than 90%)

Reporting period: 2016-08-01 to 2017-01-31

Addressed problem/issue:
The productivity in agriculture has improved enormously for the last 50 years. However, the increased yield comes at a cost. The fields producing our food are sprayed throughout the seasons with herbicides, fungicides and insecticides. We are facing major problems with resistant weeds and pesticide residues in food, soil and water. Farming needs to become more sustainable. We want to contribute to a change of paradigm, starting with row crops. We are introducing an autonomous field robot, designed for tending of vegetables. The robot uses machine vision and our ultraprecise nozzle technology to shoot droplets of herbicide on each individual weed not on the crop not on the soil. This will reduce the amount of herbicide used by appx 95%.

Importance for society:
A big concern for large part of the society is the chemical residue in our food. The way we spray our food today is potentially a huge experiment with mankind. Our project will result in no herbicide residue in the produced vegetables hence reducing the risk of potential health problems in the future. A more vivid problem today is the waterways that we poison with chemicals. We spray to much and the runoff from the fields go in to the waterways and potentially end up in our drinking water. With our method, we will reduce this problem to a minimum. The most noticeable importance for the society is that we will have the vegetables on our table. The reality of today, is that many vegetable cultures have very few herbicides available that actually kill the weeds. This is mainly because the weeds get resistance for the herbicides. Without available herbicides we risk that vegetables get to expensive to produce, and they disappear from the shelves in the shop. With our method we can turn this trend around and make the industry more sustainable.

The main objective of the feasibility study is to understand the market and evaluate the product from a market perspective. Develop a business plan with our goals and strategies, adapting and positioning our product and service accordingly:
Business vision
Market segmentation
Definition of offering
Marketing position and strategy
Market and selling model
Product launch and scaling
Operations and organization
Financial analysis
Description of work:

We have had several meetings with farmers. These meetings has been organized as structured interviews, informal talks and group meetings with several farmers at the same time. This has been a time consuming task, but the result is a good understanding of the farmers practice and how our product can be integrated in their work. Because of this work, we have made several adjustments to our design which has been key to the development of the robot.

Risk analyses has been performed through several sessions. These sessions has allowed us to perform targeted and focused actions in the project to reduce risk in the areas standing out as crucial.

We have performed studies of the supply chain for agronomical equipment with focus on Germany. To do this we have been supported by expertise from Innovation Norway in Germany and our assigned coach. This work has resulted in a strategy for the distribution of our product in the future.

Our robot has been tested at Norwegian farms, handling weeds in carrot and rutabaga fields. The tests has been monitored by scientists and compared the to conventional weed handling. The results are very positive.

We have reached out to different potential partners as chemical companies, part production companies, research communities, farming advisors and farmers. We have partnered up with several farmers and a production company to produce the first series of the product. These partners will be really important the next years to make the functionality, availability and the pricing of the product optimal.

A product life cycle analysis with the coach and GAP analysis focusing on organization development, through product life cycle has been performed. This has resulted in the discovery of a series of potential weaknesses in our organization that needs to be improved in the coming period

The regulations and the implications this will/can have on the execution of the project has been a concern. Through studies of the regulations, and design choices based on risk analyses have resulted in the conclusion that the product can be approved within the current legislation.
We have had progress beyond the state of the art in handling weeds in row cultures. The method is in fact so far ahead that the terminology does not cover it. The concepts of cultivation today is conventional and ecological. The two terms does not cover our method indicating that this can be a game changer i several ways.
This new method will have impact on the economy for the farmers, not only because they can reduce the cost of handling weeds. Because the culture itself don't setback by herbicides, the farmer can potentially have huge profit in a better harvest. The farmers that are most interested in our product indicates that the increase in profit most likely will me much more significant compared to the savings.

The farmers we have talked to also belive that they can take a special premium price for a product that is grown with this method. The customer today are willing to pay extra for å ecological product. This product is probably comparable to ecological, but the cost related will be significant lower. By the right commercial strategy by the farmer and the distributor the produce can make a large profit.

With a larger view on the environmental issues this method have significant benefits compared with todays practice. Since we handle each weed individually and don't spray the ground or crop, we can give the right dose of the herbicide on the weeds without concerns about polluting the waterways, soil or killing the plants. This way we can also reduce the resistance in the weed cultures meaning that the herbicides will be more efficient in the long run.

The method will also be disruptive to the herbicide producers. Since we spray only on the weed, the usage of herbicide will drop. The method will also allow a much broader range of herbicides available. This can result in products that is not used as herbicides today can be used to handle weeds. This can be but not limited to cheap chemicals as fertilizers or hydrogen peroxide, or weak acids as vinegar.