Agrobots - Smart farmers, intelligent robots
How AI is plowing the fields of agricultural industry
High-tech tools are conquering the agricultural industry, enhancing the farmers’ production potential. Connected agriculture is helping farmers improve their processes by providing real time data on soil conditions, moisture levels and more, allowing for the optimization of irrigation, a more efficient harvest planning, prediction of food quality and accurate insights for products and services suppliers (fertilizing companies, sellers etc.).
Farmers can now use IoT sensors to obtain real-time data and monitor the health conditions and activity of animals.
Technological innovation in AI is doing more than providing analysis tools to rural businesses, it is also breaking into day-to-day farm activities by bringing robotics into all agricultural processes. The potential of robotic automation is huge, and its scope covers a wide spectrum of field work as seeding, harvesting, irrigating and supervising, with the purpose of liberating workers from repetitive and heavy duties, and improving all the procedures in terms of costs, time and quality.
This phenomenon is to be attributed to the necessity of increasing food production. Considering the current world population volume of more than 7 billion people, and an expectation of over 9 billion by 2050 (UN estimates), the pressure to keep up with the global demand calls for the introduction of more efficient practices to produce and supply goods.
Autonomous tractors, robotics arms and drones are the some of the new tools employed in the fields to enhance agricultural processes for:
- Primarily Surveillance (drones)
- Crop Harvesting
- Planting and seeding
- Precision weed control
AI and CV for weeding
One of the duties farmers would be happy to hand to robots is certainly weeding. For a robot to take over such a task, it must be equipped with technologies that enable it to distinguish and separate the weeds from the cultivated product.
Such tools include Computer Vision and Artificial Intelligence. These technologies rely on machine learning capabilities to increase their accuracy by which the robot can take and optimize the image of the targeted area, classify the objects detected and, finally, operate the electrocution of the weeds through its end-effector.
Currently, more than 250 weeds are documented to have developed an herbicide resistance, due to the excessive use of these products. Such a phenomenon has already caused a $43 billion financial losses for US farmers (Weed Science Society of America estimation).
Robotic solutions are now used to address the mentioned issue, by targeting the weeds with a spraying machine that only releases the necessary amount of herbicide, significantly reducing the crops’ exposure to chemicals. We achieve a double benefit: first of all, the food supplied to the population will have lower amounts of chemicals, because farmers will no longer have to spray the entire fields with herbicides. As a consequence, farmers will save money on herbicides, being able to distribute the products with higher precision.
Artificial Intelligence applied to agriculture also has the power to respond to the decreasing agricultural workforce. Robots, as strawberry picking machines, can harvest eight acres of land in 24 hours.
Planting and Seeding
Robots equipped with Computer Vison can generate 3D models of specific areas. These maps allow for various tasks, as planting seeds keeping an adequate distance among them. This process, called ‘thinning’ guarantees for an optimal growth of products.
Agribots are slowly reshaping the agricultural industry, and their impact on the sector is expected to grow year after year, when the necessity of more workforce in the fields will significantly increase.
It’s worth to point out that the role of the machines that employ Computer Vision and AI tools will become bigger as their accuracy at safely interacting with the plants with minimum or no supervision, will gain farmers’ trust, even for the most delicate, and so many times so delicious, products (as strawberries).