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Who Will Save Our Planet? Robots or Plants?

What combines powerful lasers, AI systems, and robotics? Your first thought might be a space station on Mars.

However, I'm offering a different perspective. What connects them currently is agriculture. Why?

Source: Generated by Dall-e and ChatGPT4 (Prompt author: Matej Held)

Herbicides Impact the Environment

If you were a farmer, your daily challenge would be to protect your crops from the weather, pests, or even weeds. In the latter case, you would most likely use herbicides—various substances that kill or suppress weed growth. And here lies the problem.

According to statistics published by Statista Research Department, 2.3 million metric tons of herbicides were used in agriculture in 2023.

Herbicides significantly impact living organisms in ecosystems, and alternative methods for their control are being explored.

Some herbicides accumulate in the soil and penetrate water sources. Most herbicides affect not only the target plants but also other plants and animals during application. A major issue is their persistence in water sources and within the food chain, allowing some herbicides to travel from one organism to another. They can also spread outside the application area by wind and underground waters. In many cases, they cause environmental toxicity, and compounds that remain after herbicide degradation in the soil can be even more toxic. Many herbicides have been banned because their direct impact on human health has been proven, being linked to various diseases.

From an environmental perspective, herbicides affect biodiversity and soil quality by influencing the soil microbiome.

To summarize, herbicides can affect our health, biodiversity, and the environment often on a large scale. It is a problem worth solving.


Diversity of Environmental Innovations - AI, BioTech, or Regeneration

At Lifbee, we monitor and engage with the latest innovations in environmental solutions. On this occasion, I encountered various examples of solutions to the herbicide problem. Different approaches by environmental innovators can provide answers to this issue.

Today's world offers many possibilities—new ideas, approaches, technologies, and tools. Innovators work with a whole palette of tools from biotechnology, AI, robotics, and physics, to discovering new perspectives on how we can view nature (e.g., through the perspective of regeneration). This diversity of ideas can generate numerous solutions that look at the problem differently, have various advantages, and target different aspects of the issue. This diversity of solutions is necessary to eventually find an optimal set of tools to tackle the problem. It might even be a combination of them.

This is exactly what is happening in the field of herbicides. I would like to show you three approaches that different innovators are using to address this problem. Each solution comes from a completely different "world":

1. Carbon Robotics - "LaserWeeding" is the Future

The first solution is like something out of a sci-fi book and was developed by Carbon Robotics. It involves their laser weeder, which combines powerful AI for image recognition with lasers attached to a robotic tractor trailer for standard tractors.

This technology is quite advanced. The AI can process 4.7 million images per hour, recognizing and separating the crops that need to be preserved from the weeds that need to be destroyed. The trailer contains 30 powerful lasers that can target and eliminate up to 5,000 weeds per minute. The technology also includes its own information system through which the farmer can monitor the entire process's efficiency. Carbon Robotics' LaserWeeder is literally a Terminator in the world of weeds. It is an ideal solution for industrial farmers because it is highly efficient, integrates with their existing equipment, and reduces costs for herbicides and labor, with the investment paying off within one to three years. This type of technology is called disruptive technology or a "game changer" because it can significantly change the rules of its industry.

The robotic trailer is certified for organic farming. This is one of the most interesting aspects because through such technology, Carbon Robotics can show traditional large-scale farmers an economic path to organic farming. It has the potential to change the perception of organic farming as something unscalable and uneconomical. Changing the perception of large-scale farming is crucial for achieving environmental sustainability.

2. Bioherbicides

The second approach taken by environmental innovators is bioherbicides and biological weed control. Bioherbicides are plant-derived substances that stop weed growth or directly kill them and are easily biodegradable. Biological weed control uses various types of organisms—vertebrates, insects, fungi, bacteria, viruses, parasitic plants—that help control weed populations.

One of the big news on the market is the herbicide MiSSiTO® from AlphaBio Control.

Source: AlphaBio control.

MiSSiTO® is already available on the European market. As AlphaBio Control states on its website, it is a natural version of pelargonic acid obtained from a byproduct of bioplastics production using sunflower oil. It regulates a wide range of annual grasses and weeds, protects fruit trees and vineyards. MiSSiTO® kills plants by destroying their cell membranes, leaves no residues in the soil, has low toxicity to non-target organisms, and breaks down into CO2 and water after use.

This is an interesting example that combines the use of byproducts from production, reduced toxicity, and effectiveness. Utilizing byproducts and waste could be an ideal path for bioherbicides and their production.

3. Permaculture - Changing Perspective on Weeds and Soil

Weeds can positively contribute to the biodiversity of the ecosystem, prevent soil erosion, and support the life of microorganisms and insects in the soil. They provide a home for various insects and can be a vital food source for pollinators. Some weeds can be useful as food sources, and some species may even have medicinal properties.

Looking at weeds from this perspective, they suddenly become a very useful group of organisms. This is precisely how permaculture views the world and nature, aiming to create a sustainable food system through understanding ecosystem functions and applying these principles in agriculture.

Permaculture innovators design food production systems that reject monoculture as a concept and strive to create productive ecosystems where various useful animals and plants work together harmoniously, producing food and other products and materials for people and the broader ecosystem. The absence of monoculture and the associated biodiversity ensure mutual competition between "pests" and their "predators." A major effort of permaculturists is also to ensure rich, living soil and water retention on the land. They often use soil mulching principles, which naturally create a barrier to weed growth, making it easier to control. Lastly, they aim to find usefulness for weeds within the system and turn them into valuable products. For example, tea can be made from the roots of the well-known weed couch grass.

This change in cultivation philosophy leads to organically grown crops. As we see, innovative solutions do not always have to take the form of a partial technology but sometimes occur at the level of changing the overall perspective on an area. As permaculture shows us, maybe weeds are more useful than we thought.

Evolution of Innovative Solutions - The Future of Combining Approaches

Diversity is important for innovation and creativity. Young innovators at Lifbee Academy also experience this. To come up with an interesting idea, one must have an open mind but also be critical and evaluate the idea's potential. Innovation can take different paths. This applies to the wave of innovations around the herbicide problem. When considering the life journey of an innovation, several possible outcomes come to mind:

  • Innovation takes hold on a large scale and is widely distributed in society and industry.

  • It finds its "niche" market, solving a specific problem for a specific group of people.

  • It needs more time to mature, often "fermenting" in a small group of enthusiasts who gradually improve it.

  • There is also the possibility that it is a dead end and never catches on because it fails to address important market needs.

However, there is often no single dominant solution in the market, and various approaches can combine to create a new reality. I can imagine a future where biofarms utilizing permaculture principles, applying laser weeding in the early stages of cultivation, and using bioherbicides in specific cases where other approaches fail, will coexist and be widespread. These solutions can contribute to the efficiency and scalability of biofarming.

What the future holds, I don't know. This is why the world of innovation fascinates me, as it allows us to imagine and taste a better future. I believe that the solutions mentioned above will be part of it.

This activity was supported by the Tipsport Foundation to raise awareness about the possibilities of environmental innovations among young scientists, innovators, and university students.

If you are interested in environmental innovations, do not hesitate to visit our website and explore the possibilities offered by the Lifbee Academy program:

We stay in the loop of the latest trends thanks to collaboration with expert partners like ENVI-PAK and CVV.

Author: Matej Held


Alpha Biocontrol. (n.d.). Bioherbicides. Retrieved May 7, 2024, from

Carbon Robotics. (n.d.). LaserWeeder. Retrieved May 7, 2024, from


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