Autonomous Small Robots and Robot Swarms in Agriculture post image

Autonomous Small Robots and Robot Swarms in Agriculture

It’s been a dream of robotics experts and agriculturists alike for years named precision farming ; to have a robot take the strain out of the labour intensive harvesting and caring for growing crops. Now it looks as though this dream is becoming reality. The future plant caretakers will hopefully be robots with people only needed to program their movements. Agriculturists might soon have an army or swarm of small smart machines that can do what is necessary at the right time and to the right plants. This will lead to what is now termed Precision Farming.

Dave Dorhout is in the forefront of Precision Farming research and has developed a machine called Prospero which could change the way farming is managed. The robot’s creator says that Prospero “uses a combination of swarm and game theory” in its operations, and believes that it can be utilized to “tend the crops and harvest them.” With the growing demand for sustainable farming, robots such as Prospero could certainly change future agricultural practices.

How does Prospero work?

It is designed to work with a swarm of other robots with which it can communicate to indicate that it requires help or to inform them that a particular part of the land has been adequately dealt with. For example, Prospero has sensors which enable it to examine soil and then plant a seed at the optimal depth and spacing from other seeds, then cover it with soil and leave a marking agent and any herbicides and or pesticides needed before the plant sprouts. When it has informed the swarm of other robots in its immediate vicinity that an area has been successfully planted it will move on and plant more seeds in a designated area.

Prospero can move autonomously in any direction and the array of sensors on its underside help it to avoid obstacles that may be in its path, large stones for example. It can ascertain if a seed has already been planted where it is and can move on to plant seeds in other areas.

Moving in swarms, robots can cover land inch by inch more meticulously than a human using any other type of machine. Because these robots can move between rows of plants and amongst the plants without damaging them it can weed efficiently or effectively apply herbicides and/or pesticides in gel form to leaves.

Used with electronic equipment that can tell farmers about their crop yields and with Global Positioning Systems information, these robotic swarms can vastly improve the yields per acre. They can decide when crops are ready to harvest and will be able to harvest crops such as tomatoes as has already been demonstrated by scientists involved in the robotics for agriculture industry.
Farming has always adopted new technologies in its efforts to improve cash crops and use labour-saving devices; think of the seed drill and other early implements which changed the way farming was done. If the new robotic swarms prove effective and efficient we can all look forward to lower food prices and to having sustainable farming so that no more land and forests are lost to feed the world’s growing population, as robots will ensure that land is used to its maximum efficiency.

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