It has been a windy winter in Denmark so far. In fact, as I write this, our wind turbines supply 4,359 MW of energy out of the total 4,647 MW being consumed. That’s great, but unfortunately it has also been a very wet winter. Farmers are getting worried.
The more than average rainfall in the country for several months now has left enormous areas of soil flooded or with groundwater very high. Winter seed laying dormant and ready for spring is drowning, and fields are so wet that machines get stuck in them.
Agricultural robots — nicknamed agbots — are beginning to surface around the world, and it is happening in stages. Very different and more or less complex systems are needed for different tasks like harvesting, berry picking, cultivating, plowing, and sowing. But what about the wet soil? In an interview on Danish radio earlier this week, Ole Green, CEO of agriculture automation company Agrointelli, made the point that his robots could probably help solve this problem:
“Lots of tractors are too heavy to operate on these wet fields, so they simply get stuck. A tractor with equipment 4 meters wide can easily weigh more than 5 tons, but our robots can do the same work weighing less than 2 tons.”
The first machine from Agrointelli in commercial use is the Robotti modular autonomous implement carrier for field operations. It has the same capabilities as a small tractor but can complete the operations without a driver:
This first version of Robotti is diesel-powered and suitable for mechanical weed control in row crops like maize, beets, onions, cabbages or carrots. The website provides more:
“Robotti is designed with a standard 3-point hitch allowing most types of implements to be mounted between the two wheel-modules. Even though Robotti’s weight is only 600 kg, its lift capacity reaches up to 750 kg. It has four-wheel drive, and a speed of up to 8 km/h. Furthermore, it can be steered and controlled using a smartphone or tablet.”
The Robotti carrier is being further developed to be fully electric, and the design of the prototype being tested is evidence of the enhanced adaptability and function when using electric propulsion:
The company is mainly focused on software, and its visual and navigation systems are very advanced. It develops complete software solutions for machinery producers that are interested in bringing these technologies to market.
When thinking about autonomous agricultural machinery, I must admit I had never thought of their lighter weight being an advantage. Other than that, with more advanced sensors and intelligent globally connected software (working with drones as well), it really is hard to imagine just what this technology will bring about in production efficiency as well as diverse and non-invasive crop utilization. I mean, just imagine robots working day and night, nit-picking weeds, mixing crops to avoid monoculture, using just the right amount of fertilizer, and avoiding excess plowing and use of pesticides. All electric, making no noise, not even disturbing the fauna.
Right now I wish the rain would stop though. But I am afraid this is just the beginning. Especially in these parts of coastal Europe, we have been warned that precipitation will rise significantly due to global warming. Robots to the rescue.