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OPN Connect Newsletter 244 · November 18, 2021

FarmWise’s “Titan” Leverages Machine Learning to Automate Weeding


Named one of the “100 Best Inventions of 2020” by TIME magazine, FarmWise’s Titan FT-35 driverless tractor is the first-ever automated weeder to use machine learning.

Founded in 2017 by Thomas Palomares and Sebastien Boyer, FarmWise was created in response to two trends in the ag industry—a shortage of labor and a shift towards sustainability. The company’s Titan FT-35 addresses both these issues by reducing the need for manual weeding and herbicides in a wide variety of row crops, including lettuce, broccoli, celery, cauliflower, radicchio, artichokes, and soon melons and tomatoes.

Soli Organic1 January 2022

“The Titan focuses on intra-row mechanical weeding of specialty crops,” says Jaime Eltit, head of commercial operations for FarmWise. He explains that the driverless tractor uses computer vision and machine learning to identify both the crop and the weeds and then removes the latter by getting “a blade to actuate around the stem of the plant.”

Jaime Eltit, Head of Commercial Operations, FarmWise

Eltit says FarmWise chose machine learning for its weeding machine (rather than infrared or other technologies) because identifying plants in the field requires a high level of sensitivity. “Infrared technology doesn’t quite cut it,” he says. “You need to leverage artificial intelligence and robotics to be able to distinguish a crop from a weed and then execute on that weed while leaving the crop intact.”

Vitalis Jan 2022

The driverless tractor uses computer vision and machine learning to identify both the crop and the weeds and then removes the latter by getting “a blade to actuate around the stem of the plant.”

FarmWise currently has 14 Titans and works with more than 20 growers—many of which farm organically—in the Salinas, Santa Maria, and Yuma Valleys.

“The organic market is our primary market,” says Eltit. “We pride ourselves on helping organic growers weed without the use of any inputs. We feel like we bring a lot of value to organic farmers in an era of labor shortage and increased regulations by bringing a mechanical and automated solution to weeding.”

Soli Organic2 January 2022

Titan weed detection

“FarmWise has proven to be an asset over the last two seasons for Braga Fresh,” says Kyle Harmon, director of farming for the Salinas-based grower-shipper, which recently partnered with Farmwise to demo the Titan at its Organic Produce Summit field tour on September 15. “FarmWise has allowed us to reduce our hand-weeding cost in certain crops using [its] Titan weeder. … The Titan can weed intra-row, getting the weeds between crop lines, something a standard cultivating tractor cannot accomplish.”

“We pride ourselves on helping organic growers weed without the use of any inputs. We feel like we bring a lot of value to organic farmers in an era of labor shortage and increased regulations by bringing a mechanical and automated solution to weeding.” – Jaime Eltit

“FarmWise is always developing new crop blades to be able to weed crops at different sizes depending on weed pressure,” says Harmon. “Braga Fresh has been able to use the Titan in both conventional and organic romaine, organic celery, organic cauliflower, organic cabbage, organic radicchio, and organic broccoli.” 

Kyle Harmon, Director of Farming, Braga Fresh

FarmWise operates using a service model, which some have dubbed Robot as a Service, or RaaS (a play on the popular acronym SaaS). The company delivers the Titan and all necessary staffing and technical support for its use and charges the grower per acre, with fees varying depending on crop density.

“FarmWise has allowed us to reduce our hand-weeding cost in certain crops using [its] Titan weeder. … The Titan can weed intra-row, getting the weeds between crop lines, something a standard cultivating tractor cannot accomplish.” – Kyle Harmon

NatureSafe Jan 2022

Eltit says there are several benefits of the RaaS model for growers. First, it allows them to take advantage of FarmWise’s expertise in using the Titan in the field. When a grower enlists FarmWise’s services, the company not only sends out its weeding machine but someone to operate it as well. The operator controls the Titan via a tablet, walking behind the machine and closely monitoring the field conditions as it works, making any necessary adjustments along the way. 

Radicchio detection

Another benefit of RaaS is the tight feedback loop it creates between the Titan’s performance and FarmWise employees, something that has been especially critical in the early years of the company. “When we have the machines in our hands, we have product managers, project managers, technical resource managers, and engineers that are observing them,” says Eltit. “So we're constantly iterating on how to make the machine better. You lose that when you give the machines to a third party because you don't have that direct line of communication.”

The company delivers the Titan and all necessary staffing and technical support for its use and charges the grower per acre, with fees varying depending on crop density.

Weedy broccoli detection

A third benefit of the service model is its affordability for farmers. “There’s no capital expenditure—you don't have to buy a fixed asset,” says Eltit. “There’s no payment upfront. And it's risk free.”

Ocean Mist Jan 2022

When it comes to the future, FarmWise has big plans. The company is working on developing a data platform, which Eltit says will “give growers insights into plant population, uniformity, and many other values.” This new data dashboard will be included in the company’s current service offering at no additional cost.

Rendering of the forthcoming Vulcan

FarmWise will also soon be releasing a new AI-based weeder—the Vulcan. A tractor-mounted, PTO-driven implement, the Vulcan is a more dynamic and modular machine that is designed to be adaptable to a grower’s needs. “The Vulcan is going to be able to easily reconfigure from one to six lines, which are the configurations that people use most in the regions we work in,” says Eltit.

In contrast to the Titan, the Vulcan will be available for both lease and sale in addition to the service model. 

“The Vulcan is going to be able to easily reconfigure from one to six lines, which are the configurations that people use most in the regions we work in.” – Jaime Eltit

In 2022, Eltit says the company will be expanding its fleet of machines “exponentially.” As was the case with the current fleet, all of the new units will be engineered and manufactured in the US. 

When asked if FarmWise has considered developing a machine for pest elimination, Eltit says the idea is indeed on the table. “We're constantly looking at ways to increase and widen our area of application,” he shares. “So whether it's pest management or harvesting, we’re always exploring ways to apply technology to labor-intensive tasks.”

Global Organics Group Jan 2022
OPS Retailer Registration January 2022

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