From Power-Plows to Agri-bots
Robots can perform a variety of tasks and automate a range of manual processes associated with growing crops. Harvesting, weeding, mowing, pruning, seeding, spraying, sorting, and packing are the areas where robots can be implemented. Deployment of agricultural bots is a highly compelling idea that offers high efficiency and round the clock operations. It offers the ability to scale up agricultural operations to thousands of hectares. Information regarding activities that occur in a farm can be collected via bots that are embedded with sensors. This would help to make the whole operation smarter, more efficient with a reduced waste of energy, water, chemicals and fertilizers.
While traditional farming, equipped with scientific practices has led to some increase in food production levels, it is clearly not enough to satisfy the needs of the ever-increasing global citizenry. The need of the hour is to increase the productivity per hectare of land. Agricultural robots and automation is the way forward to achieve this goal.
Classification of agribots based on application:
These robots can be classified based on their application area. Weed removal bots to fruit picking bots to digitalising yield count and soil monitoring, agribots could enhance farming processes in just about every area of the sector. In general, robots used in agriculture can be categorized into four:
- Drones for surveillance
- Weed control
- Crop harvesting
- Planting and seeding
Ways of deployment of agribots:
- Servitization farming
The capital expenditure involved can be met by servitization. Adoption of a service-based model. This would serve as a beneficial pathway to all stakeholders involved that is between the agribot supplier and farmer, yielding valuable revenue and relationship opportunities. A robot is a very different machinery compared to traditional machinery. It is a complicated setup but can be operated by the service provider.
- Pay-as-you-go bots
A fixed payment per hectare after initial deployment of the robot. Employment of a robotic system in farming that would autonomously look after feeding, seeding and weeding on farms and guarantees the result.
Use of robots in agriculture in the future:
- The number of automated machines for agriculture would rise and this has already started with the advent of driver-less tractors. Companies like John Deere have already released prototypes of the same.
- One of the disadvantages of traditional farming is the usage of bulky machines doe’s soil compaction. These will be replaced by small mobile robots that do soil compaction only in a light manner and can provide individual plant attention.
- Drones can be used to provide aerial maps of farms. These can provide farmers with parameters that determine the agricultural yield. These include plant health, water stress levels and deficiencies in nutrients.
- Post-harvest, with the help of collaborative robots it would be possible to work with humans in further processing activities.
- Robots can be employed to perform activities such as labeling and keeping a track on the products throughout the supply chain. In a way, this will help to provide customers with information regarding the origin of the food and a faster way to address food safety issues. The collected data can be used as a feedback mechanism to improve quality.
- Robots can be employed for what is called selective harvesting. Harvesting only that part of the field that meets all required properties for a good yield. This can be done effectively with data collection, improved machine vision for recognition, segmentation, spatial localization and tracking. Ploughing is one of the tedious tasks in farming and eats up a lot of energy. Usage of small robots as said earlier prevents soil compaction. Local environment can be monitored using vision systems and seeds can be placed accordingly. Mapping and placing of seeds can be further optimized according to as per requirements for air, light, nutrients and ground moisture of the individual crop plants. Additional opportunities can be tracking of farming equipment thereby preventing theft and damage. Many ecosystems co-exist; robots can be made to ensure that these coexist with farming.
The above-mentioned opportunities along with the acute availability of labour shortages and the possibility to implement a service-based model may well be the impetus the sector needs to adopt agribots.
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