Robot Farmers Are Teaming Up With Drones to Conquer the Fields

VOA News

Not content with automating everyday urban living, robots are now taking to the rural countryside to assist farmers with their everyday tasks. What’s more, these armies of bot companions are buddying up with drones to create the future-connected fields of the 21st century.

The Ida Bot, as the ground bots are called, uses radio identification tags attached to trees to work out its routing. For example, a farmer can input that trees four and seven need chemicals, and when the bot senses the appropriate tag in its vicinity, it will start spraying.

“It automatically, without human intervention, applies the chemicals, and it does so at very low pressure,” Josh Griffin, assistant engineering professor at Northwest Nazarene University and project leader, said in a report published Sunday. “The chemicals go where we want them to go, and not overspray.”

VOA News

The bots communicate with drones scouring the skies. They carry multi-spectral cameras, capturing vines and fruit trees and relaying the data back to the bots to analyze which trees need spraying. In the future, a vision system integrated into the bot will be able to capture fruit tree yield, vital information for farmers that want to inform suppliers of crop yields months in advance.

Ground-based robots have seen increasing interest due to their low speeds and ability to carry heavy loads. Starship Technologies has been exploring the use of a similar bot for last-mile deliveries in big cities, while Australia Post envisions ground drones helping mailmen complete their rounds. But Ida Bot is different as it combines these advantages with an aerial element, meaning that in the confined space of a vineyard, the bot can call on the drone to provide greater accuracy during a chemical spray.

The robot is expected to cost relatively little, “in the order of maybe buying a pickup-truck,” Griffin said, with farmers benefitting from cost savings in other areas due to the Ida Bot’s efficiency.

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