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Air Force Calls for Proposals on...How to Control Weeds

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Wired's Danger Room would like to point out that one of the Air Force's most recent requests for proposals from small businesses includes an interesting topic that one might not immediately expect from a military organization. Objective: weed control.

Let's face it, military facilities have weed problems too. And, if how they make their beds is any indication of how they want their facilities maintained, the weeds have to go.

Here's the description in the Air Force 12.1 Small Business Innovation Research Proposal Submission Instructions number 207:

Develop a device that uses directed energy technology to prevent and abate unwanted plants (weeds) in areas that require control or defoliation. The purpose of this system will be the removal of unwanted plants and keep seeds from germinating.

Wired breaks down just what "directed energy technology" means:

If you’re wondering, yes, you’re right — “directed-energy” is a compound adjective that typically precedes “weapons,” as in lasers, pain rays, and sonic weapons.

The Air Force submission instructions state that each year millions of dollars are spent on weed abatement, but there are some problems with traditional control methods. Hence why they're looking for some new ideas:

Herbicide use generally has negative impacts on bird populations, although the impacts are highly variable and often require extensive field studies to predict accurately. Having a cost effective device that eliminates the use of herbicides or reduces the amount of machinery could extensively save money and protect wildlife at the same time.

Apparently, some technologies have already been developed including "microwave radiation (as heat), lasers, and sound" and "thermal technologies such as foam, hot water, steam and quenched hot gases to physically rupture cell membranes within young, vigorous green weeds to shut down the plant’s capacity for photosynthesis, has been explored as a means for safe, effective weed control." But the real challenge the Air Force is looking to solve is a device that targets weed growth at various stages -- from seedling to full-fledged dandelion.

Wired spoke with an unnamed military rep who said there is a good chance if a successful product is developed for military use, it could potentially come to the commercial market as well.

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