Adorable Italian robot uses blasts of radiation to fight mildew

This adorable little Italian farm robot packs a radioactive punch — the ICARO X4 helps the country’s storied vineyards to combat harmful fungi and mildew by blasting it with UV-C radiation.

Developed by Italian equipment manufacturer Maschio Gaspardo, the ICARO X4 farm robot was designed to navigate around Italy’s famous vineyards autonomously while also determining the best time to treat the crops to prevent the growth of harmful bacteria based on humidity and temperature data it gathers with its own onboard weather station, as well as “locally trained” weather pattern algorithms. Crucially, the ICARO can do so without the use of harmful chemicals and pesticides.

ICARO X4 is a technological product comprising 16 patents, each with its own specific function. The key element of the robot is its large, foldable UV-C emitting panels, which are emitted and applied to the plant to be treated simply by passing the panel a few centimeters from the leaves. Applying UV-C rays of a specific wavelength to the plant triggers a biological mechanism that stimulates the plant’s immune defenses. The UV-C rays also break down the DNA of pathogens such as powdery mildew, downy mildew and botrytis, preventing them from developing on the plant.

maschio gaspardo, via world fira

The ICARO robot is equipped with UV generating light panels on both sides between the axles that extend like wings (Icaro = Icarus, get it?).

Once in position, the “wings” are lowered over the vines, stopping a few inches away from the leaves for optimal treatment (read: radiation blasts). According to the manufacturer, each of the ICARO robots can keep up to 15 hectares (about 37 acres) of vineyard free from fungi and mildew, potentially reducing a farm’s chemical fungicide use by 70%.

Maschio Gaspardo ICARO X4

ICARO X4 at World FIRA 2024; via Maschio Gaspardo.

The ICARO X4 is driven by electric motors, and can be fitted with a 2-cyl. Kohler diesel motor that serves as a range-extender when the batteries are low — a crucial feature that enables the robot to work for up to 72 consecutive hours (3 days) during the summer months, when molds and mildews run rampant.

The company showed the ICARO X4 at World FIRA this past weekend, and says that five such robots were already in operation in France and Italy, with plans to sell more throughout the year — but they’re not cheap. Each ICARO comes with a €115,000 price tag.

Electrek’s Take

Using fewer pesticides is a crucial step towards long-term sustainable farming, and if you can do that with a range-extended electric farm bot that happens to also be super adorable? So much the better. The odds that it will irradiate a random Italian wall lizard and turn it into some kind of monstrous Godzilla creature are probably minimal, too … right?

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