While the entire farming process is still pretty much manual, we’re now seeing agricultural robots and drones take over tasks like weeding, cloud seeding, seed planting, harvesting, environmental monitoring, and soil analysis. With their help, farmers no longer have to spend hours toiling under the sun’s heat to harvest produce or till the soil. That’s not all they can do, though, as the next sections will show.
Types of Agricultural Robots
Many of the agricultural robots already in use today automate labor-intensive and repetitive farming tasks, all in hopes of speeding up food production to meet the ever-growing demand. These include:
- Harvesting and picking: Robot harvesters and pickers are more accurate and move faster than any human farmer can and so improve yield sizes while reducing crop wastage. An example would be the Energid citrus picker that can pick a fruit every 2–3 seconds. One of the reasons it has become popular is that it costs cheaper to build than pay for human labor. Watch it at work here:
- Weed control: Most agricultural robots of this type are drones. They typically use sophisticated built-in cameras with Global Positioning System (GPS) to locate, identify, and spray weeds. Ecorobotix falls under this category. Its manufacturer claims it is precise and uses 90% less herbicide and so costs 30% less than availing of usual treatments.
- Autonomous mowing, pruning, seeding, spraying, and thinning: Some robots are endowed with several functions targeted explicitly at ensuring healthy crop growth after seeding but before harvesting. Worth mentioning is Vision Robotics’s plant thinners, which can prune vineyards or thin lettuce. Watch its Lettuce Thinner video here:
- Sorting and packing: Robots that fall under this category prepare harvests for distribution and order fulfillment, such as Harvest Automation’s HV-100 that can pack products into containers of various sizes.
- Phenotyping: These robots analyze plants’ genetic makeup along with environmental changes, which are vital to improving crops. A notable product under this category is RoBoPlant that’s specifically geared for managing greenhouses or other specially cultivated crops. It can separate seedlings by type and planting them for optimal results (e.g., choosing the right climate and other conditions). Watch it at work here:
Agricultural Robotics Companies
The agricultural robot market is booming, valued at US$4.6 billion in 2020. And it’s set to grow even more at a compound annual growth rate (CAGR) of 34.5% to reach a projected value of US$20.3 billion by 2025. This rosy prediction has a lot to do with the fact many companies are investing in robot production. Some of the biggest manufacturers include:
- Naio Technologies: Produces many robots that not only act as farm helpers but also preserve and protect the environment. Their products can weed, hoe, and help out during harvests.
- Agrobot: Their E-Series robots have 24 robotic arms to not only pick strawberries fast but also identify which ones are ripe or not.
- Agribotix: Manufactures low-cost tools for farmers that collect crop data over time or in real-time. They take precise aerial photos to record videos and have infrared sensors that measure the health of crops in the air.
- PrecisionHawk: Creates drones that can do almost everything, making them perfect farm helpers.
- Harvest CROO: Developed the strawberry harvester Berry 5 that uses various robotic components to grab leaves, pick berries, and pack them.
- Cambridge University: Their Vegebot uses a camera to scan lettuce and determine if they’re ready for harvesting. Another camera guides it to pick produce without crushing the plants. Its machine learning (ML) algorithm “teaches” it to avoid picking unripe or diseased lettuce.
- Abundant Robotics: Their products resemble a tractor-affixed suction tube that uses sophisticated computer vision to collect mature apples only. But unlike most agricultural robots, its algorithm can be adjusted based on farmer feedback on judging the ripeness of fruits.
The agricultural robots and manufacturers featured in this post are just a few of the many. More startups are cropping up, which would usher in more developments and market growth. So if we are to answer if we are entering the age of robot farmers, the most likely answer is yes.