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The Daily Bale
Natasha Post, Author
Robotics has a multitude of applications in the world of agriculture, including soil sample collecting, seed planting, berry picking, and weed control. If there’s any doubt that robotic equipment is the future of farming, it’s worth knowing that John Deere has spent more than $305 million acquiring Blue River Technology. This Californian company was responsible for creating the Lettuce Bot.
The Lettuce Bot is a robot that utilizes a built-in camera to scan fields using algorithms and machine vision to identify sprouts as either lettuce plants or weeds. If a weed is detected, the robot uses a targeted jet of herbicide on the unwanted plant. Built on that technology, John Deere is developing it’s See and Spray technology to help reduce 80-90% of herbicide use, using the targeted machine learning technology to only spray where it’s needed.
"The global population's growth has necessitated the need for agricultural companies to develop ways to produce more food to satisfy the dietary requirements of billions of people. "
Environmental and economic challenges associated with this large-scale feat mean that both consumers and governments expect fruit and vegetable growers to use fewer pesticides. Labor shortages also mean that the seasonal staff typically working on farms are getting scarcer every year. One method of tackling this challenge is to utilize autonomous machines instead of human workers. Autonomous robots are set to be worth more than $23 billion to the agricultural industry by 2028. Even now, robots perform a variety of tasks in fields and greenhouses.
Robotic Weeding Equipment
One such firm that produces robotic equipment used in large fields is the French firm Naio Technologies. It’s large-scale, 800 kg robot Dino has been used in California to perform both hoeing and weeding tasks. The robot is capable of targeting plants grown in either raised beds or rows by adjusting its mechanical parts. With GPS guidance, the machine works without supervision to adhere to predefine weeding operations, saving both time and money for farmers. Another company that offers robotic weeding equipment is FarmWise in San Francisco. FarmWise’s machines also operate without herbicide use, making them an attractive option for organic farmers.
When it comes to the growth of crops and flowers, it’s not just large-scale farming projects that benefit from the use of robotic weeders. A growing number of citizens grow plants and flowers in their gardens at home or in community gardens. While it’s a hobby that brings joy and healthy, homegrown food to many, weeds are a constant source of frustration and time-consuming to remove. The U.S. company Franklin Robotics has developed a small-scale 1.1kg four-wheeled robot called Tertill that trims plants using a nylon string on its underside to cut away unwanted leaves. Used to patrol designated areas, this type of weeding equipment works best in enclosed gardens.
Automatic Soil Sample Collectors
One of the unique challenges associated with crop growth is ensuring the soil contains the right nutrients to create healthy plants. Using optimum nutrient levels increases yield, prevents pollution, and reduces costs. Too many nutrients, or too few, however, can be devastating. Many farmers still take soil samples by hand, which can have a high rate of sampling errors. To combat this, companies have started to develop autonomous vehicles capable of navigating fields to take samples. Guided by GPS and obstacle-detection algorithms, these machines are capable of sampling the same spots each year, of allowing farmers to understand if, and how, their soil is evolving.
Top manufacturers of soil sample collectors include:
- Rogo Ag
- Wintex Agro
Robotic Seed Planters
Another breakthrough in automated farming is the ability to utilize seed planting robots. Fendt, a German manufacturer, supplies robotic seed planters worldwide, using technology that deploys a swarm of robots that execute a host of assigned tasks. One of the only robot systems of its type, the Fendt Xaver consists of several parts: a logistics unit that is responsible for charging batteries, managing seed supply, and the navigation of the swarm of four-wheel robots, a tablet that allows farmers to schedule tasks and monitor data, plus the lightweight identical robots.
With a low weight,blow-maintenance approach, and versatile charging options that include charging from biogas plants, wind power, or traditional fuel cells, the Fendt Xaver is one of the top robotic seed planters in its field.