Robots are helping several industries ease labor concerns. This is increasingly so in today’s industrial environment, where the workforce is aging and work output decreasing for lack of efficiency. This includes agricultural fields in both the US and Europe, where the introduction of robots in fieldwork is helping to reduce current labor concerns. New farming standards brought on by natural and chemical resources is increasing the need for precision work, and robots and new technology is helping to alleviate that.
According to Dan Harburg, the design of traditional robots allowed them to perform only specific tasks repeatedly. Dan is with Anterra Capital, an agriculture technology venture capital firm from Amsterdam. According to Dan, robots for agricultural applications must be more flexible than those in automotive manufacturing plants are, as the former need to deal with the natural variation in outdoor environment and food products.
Accordingly, Anterra Capital considers investing in three major category areas in agriculture related to seeding and weeding, harvesting, and environmental control. Dan envisages each of these major categories would benefit from the introduction of advanced technology and robotics.
For instance, farmers get a two-fold benefit from spraying and weeding robots. First, these robots reduce the labor necessary for eliminating such mundane tasks. Second, by precise targeting of crops, the robots bring down the quantity of pesticides necessary to be sprayed. This allows farmers to save on labor costs and produce safer, healthier crops at the same time. For instance, see and spray robots from Blue River reduce agrochemical use by about 90%, as they use computer vision for targeting weeds.
Different technology companies have developed spray robotics. One among them is the Blue River Technology, a farm robotics start-up specializing in spray and weeding robots. According to Blue River, its tractors operate at 6-8 mph, covering 8-12 rows of crops simultaneously. Advanced vision systems on the tractors enable them to differentiate weeds from crops to provide direct targeting as it passes over them.
Autonomous robots from Naio Technologies use laser and camera guidance systems for navigating between rows of fruit s and vegetables autonomously, identifying different types of weeds. Oz, the robot from Naio, runs on four electric engines, working continuously for three hours before needing a battery recharge. Not needing human supervision, Oz follows rows of crops on the plot autonomously, to remove all weeds.
PlantTape, from Spain, offers a plant-transplanting robot that can plant seeds. The robot fully integrates the system of sowing, germination, and nursery care. This brings much higher efficiency as compared to that from conventional transplanting methods. The robot creates trays of tape for holding soil and seeds, with each tray holding nearly 900 plants. While pulling the tape from the tray, the automated robot tractor cuts the tape around each plant as it places the plant accurately in the soil. Farmers use PlantTape robots for planting tomatoes, onions, celery, cauliflowers, broccoli, and lettuces.
Although automation in harvesting crops is common, the variation in size, height, and color of the plants compounds the problem. They also require light pressure and touch for delicate picking. Vacuum suction robotic arms help in this area.