This robot ‘duck’ could help Japanese rice farmers keep paddy fields clear of weeds

For centuries, rice farmers in Asia have used ducks as a natural alternative to pesticides. While paddling around in flooded paddy fields, ducks tear up weeds and snack on insects, with their manure even acting as additional fertilizer. In the 21st century, this practice is not widespread, but a new technological twist on the method could change that.

An engineer working for Japanese carmaker Nissan has built a robot alternative to paddy field ducks. As reported by Nippon.com and Nerdisthe’s currently testing his prototype in the Yamagata Prefecture in northeastern Japan. It seems it’s just a DIY project at the moment, with no plans for commercialization or even any data on how effective it is, but it’s a fascinating use of technology all the same.

The robot has a curved enclosure with a pair of adorable (and, apparently, non-functioning) eyes.

The Aigamo robot is named after the breed of duck used in the modern version of this ancient practice. (You can read more about how rice and duck farming has evolved in modern Japan here.) The robot weighs 1.5 kilograms and is about the size of a large robot vacuum cleaner. Two rotating rubber brushes on its underside take the place of a duck’s feet, which oxygenate the water by stirring it up and preventing weeds from taking root.

You can watch a video of the robot in action above. Unfortunately, there are no English subtitles to fully explain what we’re seeing. Still, it’s an adorable robot that manages to blend old and new agricultural techniques. In Japan, where rice farming is threatened by declining consumption and an aging population, it could help a culturally important industry survive in the 21st century.