Agricultural robots - or 'agribots', are being integrated across the world to assist farmers and improve productivity in every aspect of the industry; here are three of the most innovative robots available right now.
From weed-removing and fruit-picking to digitalising yields and soil monitoring; agribots could enhance farming processes in just about any area of the sector.
Although they are likely to require a sizeable upfront investment, agribots have the ability to offer long-term returns by working 24/7, helping to reduce labour costs and increase productivity.
Britain’s shortage of people willing to work in the industry, has resulted in many migrants being employed in the sector; automation via agribots could provide farmers with a way to leverage labour shortage that, in light of Brexit, could continue to increase.
1) Tom, the soil monitor
The Small Robot Company’s – who are based in Portsmouth, UK – agribot Tom, lives onsite and monitors crop and soil consistency, digitalising the production.
It collects data on a plant by plant basis, keeping track of the health and development of each biology.
Agribot, Tom is pictured – image courtesy of Small Robot Company.
The completely autonomous robot, returns to the ‘kennel’ when it is out of charge, and replaces its battery for a fully charged one. The robot then also downloads the gigabytes of data collected over the day for analysis.
This agribot reportedly knows exactly where a farmer’s plants are, whether they are germinated and what they need. Robot Tom will even suggest what fertiliser and chemicals are needed to maximise crop yields.
Agricultural robots at Small Robot Company
Agribots at Small Robot Company can take care of all the feeding, seeding, and weeding autonomously. They will reportedly only feed and spray the plants that need it, giving them the optimum levels of nutrients and support, with no waste.
Current robots at Small Robot Company include: Tom (a crop and soil monitoring robot), Dick (a precision spraying and laser weeding robot), Harry (a precision drilling and planting robot), and Wilma (the operating system).
2) Oz, the weeding robot
French company, Naio Technologies’ Oz agribot, removes weeds and is designed to improve working conditions and reduce daily workload.
It is an entirely autonomous agribot, but it can be guided and controlled to wherever it is needed. Oz needs to be informed of how many rows it needs to weed, the length of the rows and how far they are apart.
When Oz has completed its weeding tasks, the operator will receive a text message directly to their smartphone.
The Oz robot (pictured above – courtesy of Naio Technologie) and the weed remover is completely autonomous and automated .
The agribot has five mechanical features which reportedly enables it to remove weeds effectively:
- The weeding brush: this covers up weeds in the crop row and deprives them of light and air
- The spiked harrow: this removes sprouting weeds from the crop row
- The five-teeth harrow: this loosens beaten and compacted soil
- The hoe share: a non-selective mechanical weeding tool, designed to remove weeds between the crop rows
- The torsion spring: this removes young weeds from the crop row
3) TerraSentia, the data collector
The TerraSentia robot carries a variety of sensors to collect data on plant health, colouration, physiology and stress response. It then transmits this data in real time to an operator’s phone or computer.
At present, the four-wheeled, 24-pound, foot-wide robot can cover an 80-acre field a day, with the operation entirely automated.
The agribot autonomously measures complicated and intricate plant characteristics such as; stand-count (the number of plants or crops in a specific area), stem width, and stem angle – this is done using visual cameras – all vital to the health and growth of crops.
TerraSentia was developed at the University of Illinois with the support of ARPA-E (Advanced Research Project Agency-Energy) within the US Department of Energy.
The team behind the robot are engineering TerraSentia to further measure specific plant characteristics including; early vigor, plant height, corn ear height, leaf area index, biomass, and to detect and identify disease, in order to maximise its technological capacity.
TerraSentia is currently available for $5,000, but the company is looking to scale the robot to fulfill the needs of bigger and small farms.