The future of weeding is here, and it comes in the form of a robot. The growing popularity of robotic weeders for specialty crops has grown partly out of necessity, says Steven Fennimore, an extension specialist at the University of California, Davis. Specialty crops are vegetables like lettuce, broccoli, tomatoes, and onions. They are not mass-produced like corn, soybeans, and wheat. The need for robotic weeders stems from two issues. One is a lack of herbicides available for use in specialty crops. Another is the fact that hand-weeding has become more and more expensive. Without pesticides, growers have had to hire people to hand-weed vast fields. Hand-weeding is slow and increasingly expensive. That motivates some growers to look to robotic weeders. "I've been working with robotic weeders for about 10 years now, and the technology is really just starting to come into commercial use," Fennimore says. "It's really an economic incentive to consider them." Fennimore works with university scientists and companies to engineer and test the weeders. The weeders utilize tiny blades that pop in and out to uproot weeds without damaging crops. He says that although the technology isn't perfect, it's getting better and better. The weeders are programmed to recognize a pattern and can tell the difference between a plant and the soil. However, they currently have trouble telling the difference between a weed and a crop. (Source: Agriculture and Food News, ScienceDaily.