This Weedseeking Airport Tractor Spells Death for Dandelions

Weeds growing up through the cracks in airport tarmacs aren't just unsightly, they can create traction hazards for landing aircraft. But rather than rely on a squad of human herbicide applicators, one French airport is leaving the job to a single computerized spraying system. They call it "The Weedseeker."

Originally developed as an automated way to apply herbicides in an agricultural setting, The Weedseeker's infrared optics spot and target offending growth, and feed that information into the onboard controller which, in turn, dispenses the necessary dose of herbicide required to kill the weed. This reduces both the need for human laborers (down to a single tractor driver) and the overuse of herbicides.

But at a pair of French airports, this tractor patrols taxiways—not crop fields—in the hunt for weeds. First employed at Paris' Orly airport, which was under pressure to reduce its herbicide use from recently-enacted groundwater protection legislation, the Weedseeker offered a much more precise (and sparing) application than conventional methods would allow. And, to ensure that every runway receives regular and even treatment, the Weedseeker has been equipped with a GPS location tracker. The system has since been picked up by Lyon-Saint Exupéry Airport and the French rail system.

Future iterations could conceivably do away with the driver altogether and instead stalk the runways at night in packs like Harvest Automation robots with a tank of weed killer. [KUHN via Modern Farmer]