Robotics has reached out to various industries to redefine their work ethics and methodologies. Its innovation has transformed many for the better. In even the field of farming, robots today plays an effective role. Farmers have always required several data and information to grow their fields; despite the general idea that considers agriculture far from high tech, indeed robotics is fundamental to improve farming, especially in this 4.0 industry era.
In fact, Big Data is necessary for agriculture, where there are way too many variables and huge territories to keep monitored. For this reason, technology and robotics are the keys to support farming in innovating and turning into a sophisticated business; at the same time, those technologies could improve farmers’ quality of life, boosting their business and products.
Agriculture is now facing several challenges, and innovating is the only way to keep up with times: people aging and working in hard conditions even over 50; higher labor costs; climate change… For these reasons, there is robotics working on improving the future of agriculture.
Here are the ways in which robotics is redefining the future of farming.
Indeed, the average age is rising and from the latest data, the average farmer’s age is between 50 and 58, causing major problems in small farms, where there are no young generations available to work on the fields. Therefore, the solution comes from engineering. Several multinational corporates have design special exoskeletons able to support workers (or farmers, in this case). How does it work? This kind of robot follows the farmer’s movements, without interfering, and eases the pressure on back, arms, and knees, with general support in lifting weights.
Weeds are one of the biggest issues in agriculture; it is impossible to pull them one by one and, at the same time, using too much herbicide implies chemical-resistant weeds, which are stronger. To protect plants from pests, now there is a special robot that can clear brush. It required a combined work of mechanical engineering, machine learning, and robotics to create such a robot; it is able, thanks to machine learning, to recognize the center of the crops and removes weeds only once mature.
The traditional view of robots is that they’re clumsy and bulky—certainly not nimble enough to gently pluck a strawberry off its stem, right? However, that’s exactly what the Belgian company Octinion’s Rubion robot can do. Strawberry plants continue producing berries throughout the growing season, but currently, there aren’t enough workers to continually pick every berry that every plant produces. Typically, as Nell Lewis reports for CNN, a farmer can hire workers to clear the field once, leaving any fruit that became ripe before or after that time to rot on the fields.
So, of course, a robot that can pluck berries continuously has appeal. The Rubion bot uses a special vision system to detect when a berry is ripe and then plucks it with a soft 3D-printed hand. Octinion has already commercialized the robot, which is being used in the United Kingdom and the Netherlands. Ideally, the bot would scour rows and rows of strawberry plants indoors. One of the biggest challenges for robots like these is to withstand the elements in traditional farm fields.
LiDAR for Farm fields
Small rover-like bots are designed to tackle problems on a variety of terrain, from our living room carpeting to our lawns. Now, they’re in farm fields too. EarthSense’s TerraSentia rover is about the same size as a robotic lawnmower, but souped-up with the machine learning and visual programming of NASA’s moon and Mars rovers.
TerraSentia, developed at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign with support from the US Department of Energy’s ARPA-E, uses LiDAR—or light detection and ranging—technology to collect data from a field’s hard-to-reach understory. Combined with other on-board technology systems, TerraSentia can “collect data on traits for plant health, physiology, and stress response,” according to the EarthSense website. Its creators hope to soon program the bot to measure young plant health, corn ear height, soybean pods, plant biomass as well as detect and identify diseases and abiotic stresses, according to the site. So far, it’s been deployed in corn, soybean, wheat, sorghum, vegetable crops, orchards, and vineyards.