Scientists and engineers are constantly researching new ideas and attempting to create innovative technology. There work benefits almost every industry in different ways, depending on the purpose of the inventions. One industry that has benefited significantly from new technology is agriculture, as agricultural processes are constantly changing and improving. One type of technology that has impacted on agriculture in positive ways is robots. There are now farmers across the globe who are using agricultural robots in a variety of ways to improve their practices. Here is an overview of what an agricultural robot is, the different ways they are used, and how they can change the future.
What is an Agricultural Robot?
An agricultural robot is any robotic device that can improve agricultural processes. The aim is for the robots to take over many of the farmer’s duties that are slow or labor intensive. Using robots makes many tasks simpler, faster, and more effective. Furthermore, it can save on costs such as labor and product waste in the long-term. There are many different types of agricultural robots that are each designed for a specific agricultural application. Furthermore, agricultural robots can increase production yields, which is important because of the increasing population. According to BIS Research, there is the potential for agricultural robots to impact positively on all aspects of farming operations globally. There are applications for agricultural robotics for both farmers who grow crops and for those who have livestock.
Why is the Development of Agricultural Robots So Important?
Using robotics for agricultural applications is not just about a farmer wanting a fancy piece of equipment on his farm. There is a very serious need for scientists, researchers, and engineers to develop robots for agricultural purposes. Postscapes says that some of the reasons why developing these robots are so important are:
- Labor and wage costs constitute around 40 percent of the United States nationwide farm expenditure.
- In the United States alone, crop reduction is decreased by $3.1 billion annually due to labor shortages. This is a situation that the use of robotic devices can resolve.
- It is expected that between 2009 and 2050, the world population will increase by over a third, which is the equivalent to approximately 2.3 billion people. Therefore, faster and more effective agricultural processes are needed to meet demand.
What Are the Applications for Which You Can Use and Agricultural Robot?
Robotics.org highlights the many applications for which you can use agricultural robots. Some of these include:
- Sorting and packing
- Harvesting and picking
- Autonomous mowing, pruning and thinning
- Weed control
- Autonomous seeding and spraying
- Utility platforms
Autonomous Tractors and Harvesters
One of the established applications for robotics in agriculture is autonomous tractors and harvesters, says Robotics Business Review. Tractors provide the function of towing devices that fulfill several operations on a far, The main problems with tractors are that they need a person to operate them and the whole operation comes to a halt if they break down. Using automated machinery instead means that labor costs are saved as nobody is needed to operate the machinery. A further advantage is that automated machinery can function 24 hours a day, so tight operational windows are achieved. In 2016, more than 300,000 tractors with autonomous functions were sold. Another interesting fact is that there is a growing trend for follow-the-leader autonomy, which involves autonomous machinery following human-driven machinery.
Ecorobotix is a fully autonomous drone that is lightweight and uses GPS. This drone is used to spray weeds, and it utilizes a complex camera system so that it can identify the weeds and target them effectively without spraying crops. This is a solar-powered robot, so it can run all day from the power of the sun and there are no fuel costs involved. Other than the fact that this device does not require fuel, it also saves costs on products and labor. It is estimated that it is 30 percent cheaper to run the Ecorobotix than to use traditional treatment methods as it has precise arms that use 90 percent less herbicide. In the future, it is possible that these robotic devices could completely replace farm labor for treatment processes completely.
Energid Citrus Picking Systems
Interesting Engineering highlights the benefits of this system for farmers in the citrus fruit business. They are a fast and effective harvesting system that has the capacity to pick a fruit every two to three seconds. This is a much faster rate of harvesting than a farm hand is capable of achieving. This system is relatively cheap to build and buy, so it can also save citrus fruit farmers labor costs.
Naio Technologies for Environmentally Conscientious Farming
Naio Technologies have produced a range of robots that can undertake various farming tasks, while also using techniques that will preserve the local environment. Some of the tasks that these agricultural robots can fulfill include weeding, hoeing, and harvesting. The company that creates these devices has said their aim is to provide those in the agricultural industry with technology that helps to grow more abundant, healthier, and environmentally friendly crops.
Agrobot E-Series for Fruit Picking
For now, this robotic device is specifically intended for picking strawberries. Not only can it collect them faster than a human, but it can also check the ripeness of each strawberry before harvesting them. Although it has rather limited use, for now, this gadget has the potential for adaptation for checking the ripeness and harvesting many other types of fruit in the future. This particular device is especially important as there have been challenges in developing robots that can pick soft fruits due to the manual dexterity required for this task.
Fertilization and Irrigation
Traditional methods of irrigation and fertilization are often ineffective and can waste a lot of water. Using robot-assisted precision irrigation can reduce the water wastage by targeting specific plants. These are usually ground robots that navigate their way between the crops to pour water directly onto the base of specific plants. A further advantage of using these robots is that they can access areas that are difficult for larger pieces of machinery. Another problem for which these robots are a solution is for fertilization. Some crops grow too quickly for farmers to irrigate them fast enough. The robots can get between the rows of crops and add nitrogen fertilizer directly to the base of each plant.
Drones for Crop Monitoring and Data Collection
Farmers with large crops need to monitor crops and collect data. One of the most effective ways of doing this is to use drone technology. One of the leaders in this industry is Agribotix, which is a low-cost drone that collects crop data in both real-time and over longer periods of time. It can take aerial photographs, record videos, and measure the health of crops using infrared sensors. This can improve crop management and help to reduce the spread of crop diseases. Another example of this technology is the Precision Hawk. This combines artificial intelligence with LiDar, hyperspectral, and multispectral technology. They are a multifunctional resource for farmers as they can support many aspects of crop management and data collection.
Autonomous Precision Crop Seeding
Crop seeding is another important function that agricultural robots are capable of achieving, according to Robotiq. Traditionally, seeds are sewn by scattering them using a broadcaster spreader, which is a piece of machinery attached to a tractor. The tractor drives at a steady pace while the spreader throws out the seeds. It is not a very efficient method of crop seeding and there is usually a lot of seed waste. Autonomous precision seeding technology combines geomapping with robotics. This generates a map that displays the qualities of the soil at various points across the field. The robotic seeding device is attached to a tractor and only plants the seeds in specific locations and at precise depths to increase the chances of a successful crop and reduce seed waste.
RoBo Plant for Greenhouse Management
The RoBo Plant is a fantastic robotic device for farmers who have protected crops or greenhouses. The robot boasts both semi and fully automated machinery that a farmer can use for various aspects of greenhouse management. One of the main functions of this device is taking flats of peat seedlings and separating them before planting them in optimal patterns. This is more effective than the manual process that is currently used, so it can save time and money.
Robots for Thinning and Pruning
Farmers need to thin their crops to give the crops the best chance of growing. Similarly, pruning their crops can improve plant health and growth. This is a labor-intensive and time-consuming process for farmers. Using a robotic gadget can save on time and labor costs. One example of this type of agricultural robot is the LettuceBot, which won an award for outstanding product innovation in agriculture. This robot is specifically designed for use with lettuce crops, and it uses computer vision to detect the plants as it drives over them. It decides which to keep and which to remove based on how healthy the plants are. Another good example of this technology is the robot created by Vision Robotics. Their agricultural robots use artificial intelligence that can prude vineyards using images of the plants and a robotic arm for pruning and thinning.
Milking Dairy Herds
Although many of the applications of agricultural robots relate to various aspects of crop management, there are also applications that are beneficial to livestock. The milking process is often a long and difficult task for farmers that takes place in several stages. One of the main difficulties relates to the regulations for health and safety as milk is a substance consumed by humans. Therefore, farmers must take steps to disinfect the cows' udders prior to milking. There is now a robot called UR5 that improves the milking process by spraying disinfectant on the cows’ udders in preparation for milking.
Shepherding and Herding
Another way in which robots are used with livestock is for shepherding and herding. There are currently robots being developed that can play a role in sheep and cattle farming. There are already drones being used in Ireland and New Zealand that can help to round up the sheep. This is particularly useful when the farmland on which the sheep or cattle live consists of difficult terrain. It will save the farmers and farm laborers time and could reduce fuel costs as farmers will not need to drive to the limits of their land. In Australia, ranchers currently use helicopters as a resource for herding cattle and rounding up sheep over a large area. This is an expensive way of rounding up livestock due to the cost of the helicopter combined with its running costs. There is also an element of danger to consider. Furthermore, it is not possible to fly helicopters in some weather conditions for safety reasons. Using drones is potentially a more cost-effective, safer, and less time-consuming method of rounding up livestock on large ranches
Agricultural Robots - The Final Verdict
There are many different types of agricultural robots that can improve farming processes. Each type of robot can complete specific tasks that will benefit the farmer. Using agricultural robots can save both time and money, as well as saving time, labor, and products. Therefore, there are many benefits to agriculture in using robots. Scientists and engineers are continuing to work to improve on the current models of agricultural robots and to invent new and innovative robots for even more agricultural applications. Many of the applications are in the early stages and need more development, but there is a lot more to expect from the world of agricultural robotics in the future. Overall, there are exciting times ahead in robotics engineering and this could potentially change the world.
Written by Liz Flynn
Read more posts by Liz Flynn