The farming industry has long relied upon herbicides to keep weeds at bay. But this hasn’t come without its problems: herbicides have been known to adversely affect wildlife, such as birds and frogs; gusts of wind can blow herbicides onto neighbouring fields; and their effects on humans are still open to debate, though some scientists believe they contribute to cancer.

Weeds have also developed a resistance to herbicides over the years, with plants now showing widespread tolerance to glyphosate herbicides. One alternative is to use so-called “organic” herbicides, but these are very expensive and therefore often not conducive to commercial farming.

But the German engineering and electronics giant Bosch thinks it may have come up with an affordable, chemical-free alternative that could change the face of farming. Developed in conjunction with the startup Deepfield Robotics, the BoniRob is a robotic farmhand that can identify weeds and destroy them before they have a negative effect on the crops around them.

BoniRob recognises weeds from their leaf shape and, instead of picking them, simply smashes them into the ground. There, starved of sunlight, they shuffle off this mortal coil. Deepfield communications head Birgit Schulz said that the BoniRob had had a success rate of more than 90% in trials involving carrot cultivation.

In addition to dealing with weeds, BoniRob helps reduce farming’s environmental impact by monitoring crop growth and optimising fertilisation. It scans the field and provides up-to-date information that the farmer can access immediately, meaning they no longer need to wait for samples to be analysed in a lab and saving them precious time.

It can tell farmers how much water and fertiliser their crops require and provide additional information, such as whether certain plants are resistant to specific pests.

Have a look at the above video and watch BoniRob in action. Perhaps technology like this will mean herbicides will soon no longer be required.