Harvesting Robots: Automated Farming in 2023
As the world population continues to grow, the demand for food production has increased, leading to a greater need for efficient and sustainable agricultural practices. One area that has seen significant development in recent years is the increased use of robots to harvest crops. As a result, agricultural harvesting robots are becoming more popular as they offer advantages such as increased efficiency, accuracy, and reduced labor costs.
In this article, we will explore the various types of robot applications in agriculture, the types of robots the industry currently uses, and the latest trends in the agricultural robotics industry.
Agricultural Robot Applications
Harvesting robots are designed to harvest crops such as fruits and vegetables. They use sensors and cameras to detect when the crops are ready to be picked, then use robotic arms or other tools to carefully harvest them without damaging the produce. Six-axis robots are often responsible for the picking process. Since they’re stationary robots, they’re often paired with a mobile unit. This unit can be a mobile robot or a robotic transport unit (RTU).
Choosing the right end-effector is critical for an efficient harvesting process. It’s best to use grippers best suited for the produce. For example, more delicate fruits and vegetables might require a soft gripper or suction cup. Most robot manufacturers can recommend the best gripper for the application.
These robots remove weeds from fields without manual labor. Weeding robots use image recognition technology to identify weeds and use precision tools to remove them from the soil. There are many purpose-built robots designed specifically for weeding applications. These robots crawl overtop the produce, looking for weeds. It extends an arm to pull, smother, or spray the weed when it finds one.
Mobile and articulated robots can be paired for tasks such as weed control. They can autonomously navigate through fields and identify and remove weeds without the need for human labor. Additionally, farmers can use these robots for tasks such as soil analysis, planting, and even harvesting in some cases.
As this technology advances and big data becomes more widespread, we can expect to see even more innovative applications of mobile robots in the agricultural industry. For example, leveraging big data analytics to understand when and where weeds are most likely to appear and act accordingly. This pairing will ultimately lead to more efficient and sustainable farming practices in addition to increased productivity.
Seeding and Planting
These robots are designed to automate the process of planting crops. Seeding and planting tasks are tedious and repetitive–a perfect task for robotics. These robots use GPS and other technologies to precisely plant seeds in the soil, ensuring optimal spacing and depth for each seed. Purpose-built mobile robots and autonomous tractors are typically used for these tasks, especially for large-scale farming systems. Smaller-scale productions can leverage articulated arms and mobile robots.
Robots are increasingly being used for fertilizing applications in agriculture. Traditional fertilization methods often involve spreading fertilizer across entire fields, which can be wasteful and lead to uneven distribution. On the other hand, fertilizer application robots can apply fertilizer directly to the plants or soil, reducing waste and ensuring that each plant receives the right amount of nutrients.
These robots can be equipped with sensors and mapping technologies that allow them to navigate through fields and apply fertilizer in precise locations. Some robots use pneumatic systems to shoot fertilizer pellets into the soil, while others use liquid fertilizer that is sprayed directly onto the plants.
By using robots for fertilizer application, farmers can reduce costs and increase yields while also promoting more sustainable farming practices. Additionally, because these robots can operate autonomously, they can work around the clock, which can be especially useful during busy planting or harvesting seasons.
Most Common Agricultural Robot Types
Several types of robots are used in the agricultural industry, each with specific functions and capabilities. The most common types of agricultural robots include six-axis robots, mobile robots, and autonomous tractors.
Six-axis robots, or articulated robots, are used in the agricultural industry for various tasks. These robots have a flexible arm comprising several joints, allowing them to move in multiple directions and reach a wide range of positions. This high degree of articulation makes them ideal for tasks like picking fruits and vegetables, as they can reach into tight spaces and pick produce with precision and accuracy.
These robots also boast exceptional reach, allowing them to extend into and over top of planters to pick or spray produce, for example. In addition, six-axis robots are commonly equipped with various sensors, including vision systems. These sensors allow them to determine if a fruit or vegetable is ripe enough for picking. If so, it can locate the produce and calculate its approach to pick the item.
Six-axis robots are highly limited in their mobility. For larger tasks, they’ll require equipment to enable extra mobility. Users often achieve this additional mobility through robotic transport units (RTUs) or by combining the robot with a mobile robot. These methods are excellent choices for medium-scale tasks.
Mobile robots are critical for many agricultural applications. In traditional manufacturing, you can bring the products to the robot cell or station. In the agricultural industry, you must bring the robot to the product. Since most robots, such as six-axis robots, were designed with traditional manufacturing in mind, the agricultural industry pairs these robots with mobile robots to enable the mobility required for farming applications. Mobile robots are equipped with wheels or tracks to navigate through fields and other outdoor environments.
However, mobile robots can perform tasks on their own outside of simply moving another robot from point to point. One of the primary applications of mobile robots in agriculture is crop monitoring. Farmers can equip these robots with cameras and sensors that detect plant health, soil moisture, and other critical variables for crop growth. Farmers can then use this information to make data-driven decisions about irrigation, fertilization, and other aspects of crop management.
Farmers can use autonomous tractors for tasks such as planting, fertilizing, and spraying, where precision and consistency are critical. GPS and other mapping technologies allow them to navigate through fields autonomously without human drivers.
One advantage of using autonomous tractors in agriculture is that they can work around the clock, increasing efficiency and reducing labor costs. They can also operate at a consistent speed and maintain a consistent application rate, leading to more uniform crop growth and increased yields. Additionally, because they are autonomous, they can avoid obstacles and navigate challenging terrain, reducing the risk of accidents and crop damage.
Autonomous tractors can also be used for tasks such as soil preparation, tilling, and harvesting, offering increased efficiency and reducing the need for human labor. Overall, autonomous tractors are proving to be valuable tools in the agricultural industry; offering increased precision, efficiency, and sustainability.
Current Automation Trends in the Agricultural Industry
The current automation trends in the industry are primarily related to sustainability, creating more robust automation systems, and applying data-driven insights to improve results. The most noticeable trend is the increasing use of autonomous vehicles, such as autonomous tractors and drones. We discussed autonomous tractor applications previously. However, drones are increasingly finding uses in agriculture around monitoring, spray application, and security. These systems offer increased efficiency, precision, and sustainability. In addition, as relatively new technologies, they are becoming more widely available and affordable for farmers.
Another trend is the development of robotic systems that can perform multiple tasks, such as planting, fertilizing, and spraying, all in one pass. These multi-tasking robots offer increased efficiency and reduce the need for multiple pieces of equipment and human labor.
A third trend is the increasing use of data-driven decision-making in agriculture. Robots equipped with sensors and cameras can collect data on plant health, soil moisture, and other variables, which can then be analyzed to make data-driven decisions about crop management. This trend leads to more sustainable and efficient farming practices, as farmers can make more informed decisions about when to irrigate, fertilize, and harvest their crops.
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