SALINAS — A behemoth of a worker, recently recognized by a national publication, that can meticulously and precisely remove weeds growing between sprouting crops is being employed on farms in California and Arizona.

Time magazine recently placed the FarmWise Titan FT-35 on its list of Best Inventions of 2020. It is an automated mechanical weeder that can help substitute the pass of a hand-weeding crew, which usually has 10 to 15 people.

FarmWise has its operations headquarters, or home base for its team and machines, in Salinas and an office in San Francisco that houses most of its engineers. The company works with farming operations in the Salinas Valley such as Dole and Braga Fresh, plus dozens of other customers.

The company views the Time magazine distinction as an opportunity to share with a broad audience its innovation for vegetable farmers. Following the mid-November publication of the list, FarmWise has seen support build from media outlets and the investor community.

“We’ve been deploying a machine in Santa Maria with Bonipak since early 2019,” said Pauline Canteneur, a FarmWise spokesperson. “We just opened a location in Yuma, Arizona and started doing work in Imperial Valley, California as well.”

The Titan FT-35 is the third and most advanced robot from FarmWise and was released in April of this year. It is a driverless tractor that distinguishes vegetable crops — including broccoli, lettuce and cauliflower — from the weeds that hinder their growth with the help of state-of-the-art artificial intelligence and computer vision. The Titan can uproot weeds with mechanical tools down to one centimeter of precision.

Adaptable to different crops, soil and growth stages, the Titan FT-35 uses adjustable blade precision, a proprietary blade design that is customized for different field conditions, making it easy to switch from one crop type to another, a flexible bed width to work in different settings, and can handle varying row configurations.

It is built entirely in the United States by Roush using Caterpillar engines and FarmWise’s own custom robotics arms.

Canteneur said that the Titan is not sold to growers but the company provides a service to growers instead. FarmWise says it is in business to save farmers money and coming up with a pricing structure that allows savings on their current weeding bill is a priority for the company’s team.

“Farms give us a number of weekly acres to complete. We take care of bringing the robot to the field, operating it, bringing back to our shop, and doing the maintenance,” said Canteneur. “For growers, it’s a way to have access to new kinds of technologies without bearing too much risk. It also allows full flexibility on their end.”

FarmWise was started in 2016 by Sebastien Boyer and Thomas Palomares. The two long-time friends and engineers found a common interest and passion for sustainability challenges. They envisioned how technology could be used to make farming more efficient while working at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and Stanford Computer Science labs.

The FarmWise Titan FT-35 uses state-of-the-art artificial intelligence and computer vision rather than herbicides to eradicate weeds from cropland. It travels along furrows identifying both the planted vegetation, such as broccoli, lettuce and cauliflower, and weeds. It then uses robotic arms to pull the weed within one centimeter of precision. (FarmWise)

Working collaboratively with growers in California, their idea of machines that could kill weeds without the use of harmful herbicides came to fruition. FarmWise has a team of about 50 farming experts and technologists and is currently developing the application of its technology for more crops and farming tasks.

“Our goal is to be as competitive as possible with the performance of hand weeding crews,” said Canteneur. “We want to be able to offer farmers a viable alternative to hand weeding as the labor shortage of fieldworkers is becoming more and more of a concern, especially in the specialty crop industry.”

FarmWise believes the endorsement from Time magazine validates its vision for the future of farming and motivates its entire team.

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By Arlene Huff

Arlene Huff is the founding member of Golden State Online. Before that She was a general assignment reporter. A native Californian, she graduated from the University of California with a degree in medical anthropology and global health. She currently lives in Los Angeles.

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