- Steve Maxwell
The Welcomed Invasion of Agricultural Robots
Updated: Jan 11, 2021
Steve Maxwell at Maxwell Capital in Vancouver BC, is grateful for the implementation of automation in this realm and we’re sharing some of our favourite inventions to date. Australian Author, Cathy Crowley, once said, “If you don’t want a generation of robots, fund the arts.” Ms. Crowley obviously was not thinking about agriculture when she was campaigning for the creatives because, for Agriculturalists, a generation of robots is one way we are saving the planet and making it sustainable for humans to do what they love. Emerging applications of robots has revolutionized how we think about agriculture and how farmers navigate their fields. Whether planting seeds, improving crop yield, or collecting data to enhance irrigation, agricultural robots are moving with purpose.
The manual labour of individually planting seeds in a crop field is definitely a thing of the past and, when you consider the growing demand for food and sustainable living, agricultural technologists are reinventing the wheel to expedite planting procedure. One invention that has materially moved the needle in the right direction is the Roboplant. Spearheaded by the ISO Group, a supplier of industrial machinery for protected horticulture, the Roboplant “automatically takes peat blocks out of the boxes, separates them and plants them in the chosen pattern into the holes of the hoist netting.” If that isn’t enough, it is designed with the capabilities to assess and function with a high level of uniformity. This is important to note because such accuracy directly impacts how well plants grow; even distribution among crops aides in the protection, growth, and harvest of the crop. It is undeniable that the Roboplant simplifies working conditions for farmers, especially with a capacity of Capacity of 21,000 meshes per hour (if 3 beds are planted at the same time). According to the ISO Group, the Roboplant is highly favoured among growers of chrysanthemums.
Moving briefly from ground to air, the Precision Hawk takes drone capabilities to another level with groundbreaking agriculture-focused software. For example, PrecisionAnalytics Agriculture is software that allows for complete aerial mapping and agronomy. With this technology, farmers can monitor growth trends, study plant behaviour such as size and indications of plant stress, and they can “measure the zonal efficiency” of a farm. As far as how it is programmed, PrecisionAnalytics uses data collected from drone sensors, and automatically converts that to georeferenced orthomosaics. In instances where farmers cannot make much sense of the analytics, the software has a library of resources that help farmers to gain critical insight. The best part? Users can upload data from the drone right to their account, generate high-resolution maps and elevations, and use the data on an ongoing basis to make informed decisions about agricultural maintenance.
Another aerodynamic robot worth mentioning is Farmlens, from the company, AGEagle Aerial Systems. This technology is revered in the industry as one of the leading drone-based agricultural intelligence systems. Users enjoy the detailed data collection solutions and more than that, what Farmlens can do with the data, almost making farm management as easy as downloading a mobile app. “FarmLens can stitch and process images from nearly any drone equipped with a near infrared sensor.” In addition to an image processing system that saves time and excessive technical computing, FarmLens enables users to:
Convert drone images into crop health indicators;
Directly input data for sustainability scores and help users derive realistic sustainability objectives;
Upload field scouting images to the FarmLens platform;
Access real-time weather conditions and satellite imagery;
Export auto-created zone maps; and
Seamlessly share actionable data with other members of their team in real-time across both mobile and standard messaging platforms
While this list is not exhaustive in describing the capabilities of Farmlens, what is clear is that the robot is engineered to see what the farmer can see and beyond that, ultimately creating a technology that is always moving the field forward.
Bigtop, the brainchild of Advanced Intelligent Systems (AIS), is an autonomous mobile robot that is designed to provide an automation solution specifically for the nursery and agriculture industries. It targets ominous and labour-intensive tasks such as strategic spacing of plants and pots and various sizes and weights in greenhouse nurseries. Using patented algorithms, BigTop can detect and identify plants based on their sizes and shapes and use this information to position plants for optimal growth. The mechanism uses two robotic arms to pick up six plants at a time, securely rotating them in a pre-programmed pattern. BigTop can operate both indoor and outdoor which diversifies its reach. This invention is becoming more of a staple for farmers, particularly because of a growing labour shortage. Tasks such as sizing and spacing crops in the interest of optimizing growth are not only repetitive, but physically burdensome and, as a result, workers are turning down these jobs at higher rates. BigTop is the robotic arm that keeps on giving when us humans are weary.
AVO by Ecorobotix
As you’ve seen above, efficient planting is important, but so too is efficient weeding. Ecorobotix recognized this and developed Avo, the first fully autonomous robot for ecological weeding. It is a solar-powered machine that has high precision spraying (protecting crops) with 95 percent less herbicide, thereby reducing the environmental impact. When purchased, farmers can “introduce field boundary and crop line information in the user interface software and the system will generate a navigation path considering field constraints and user predefined inputs.” Avo has been proven to improve crop yield and is less expensive than traditional methods of weeding.
Robots have been an impactful development within the field of agricultural technology and, if what they are accomplishing right now was unimaginable a few decades ago, we cannot wait to see how they evolve.