Agriculture involves a highly tedious process. A high-yielding farm demands constant efforts from farmers, right from soil preparation and sowing to harvesting and storage. For a long time and still, human labor constitutes most of the efforts that go into crop production.
However, with the introduction of robots, we may very well have found the solution to a sustainable agricultural output that requires less human effort. Let’s find out how robots are transforming agriculture in the 21st Century.
Harvesting crops is one of the most labor-intensive parts of farming. And, with an aging workforce and the unavailability of low-cost labor, robots are turning out to be an efficient solution.
Harvesting robots are engineered to pick fruits, vegetables, or crops from their parent plant without damaging the plant or the produce. Since the requirement has a lot of conditions to it, there isn’t a single robot capable of performing all the operations.
These robots are specially designed to suit the needs of each industry. For example, Virgo, a robot by Root AI, can pick tomatoes, where it will identify ripe tomatoes and leave the unripe ones. The robot does this with the help of AI and a host of perception sensors and cameras.
Another example is the Agrobot E series, a robot made to harvest strawberries. This robot can be configured with up to 24 arms and can distinguish between mature and green strawberries. Agrobot E series also use an array of cameras and sensors to harvest the strawberries carefully.
Weeds can hinder the agricultural output of a farm or field since they compete with plants for nutrients from the soil. If left to thrive, they will end up sucking all the nutrients meant for the crops.
Again, human labor is the only solution we have had for centuries. Since plucking weeds in between the plants requires a great deal of care, there were no other viable options.
However, this manual process is gradually being replaced by intelligent agricultural robots. RIPPA, or Robot for Intelligent Perception and Precision Application, is an agricultural robot that can cover up to 5 acres of land in a single day, all powered by solar energy.
Developed by The University of Sydney, RIPPA can blast a weed by shooting it with a weed removal liquid. The robot uses a high-speed camera to differentiate weeds from useful plants.
Ecorobotix is another example of autonomous weed removal robots. These robots use a camera and sensors to identify weeds and then spray a precise shot of herbicide. Compared to options like mass herbicide, this method saves up to 90% herbicide use by volume.
With the advancements in imaging technologies, it is now possible to fit high-resolution cameras to robots so that they can identify the color and get an accurate reading on the size of the object in front of it.
The Smartpickr robot from Greefa is one such example of a sorting and packing robot capable of identifying and sorting ripe fruits from its counterparts. The sensors enable the robot to determine the quality of the fruit and sort it accordingly. The robot has a speed of 2 fruits per second. SortiPack by Crux Agribiotics is another robot used for packing and sorting tomatoes.
The popularity of drones isn’t restricted to surveillance or filmmaking. They are also becoming a vital tool for the agriculture sector. We now have drones that fly around the farm, take pictures and create data on crop growth and overall health. This data can be used to determine the overall health of the farm and the areas that need improvement. The AgEagle is such a robot designed for aerial imagery collection and analytics.
The drone flies over the farm, takes images using its camera, and uses sensors to collect various data from the farm, including temperature and weather. The software from AgEagle then analyzes these images to provide valuable information on plant growth, enabling farmers to carry out precision farming and expect better yields.
It is impossible to imagine these intelligent machines without sensors and cameras. These devices help the robots to see and understand the environment around them. But that’s not all. Sensors provide the necessary signals for a robot to perform a defined autonomous action. In the case of an agricultural application, these actions can be anything from picking the right fruits and weeding the right plant to packaging the right produce.
Evidently, a robot’s efficiency and effectiveness depend largely on the quality of sensors installed. Therefore, sensors used in agricultural robots must be robust enough to sense objects in real-time, even in adverse weather conditions. These devices must offer a wide field of view and effectively transmit collected data to the robot’s software for further analysis.
At Hokuyo, we offer a range of high-quality, smart sensors designed for a range of autonomous robotics applications. Take a look at some of our sensors designed for autonomous mobile robots (AMRs) typically used in agricultural applications.