The term “precision agriculture” has been commonly associated with the incremental use of technology to monitor activities carried out on crops. The goal is almost always the same, ie, cost reduction and predictability of agricultural risk (parameter used to quantify climatic or market effects on farming). This increase in the use of technology has brought the field of robotics closer to the crop
The Field Robots
The use of robots in crops has sought to positively impact the parameters of crop repeatability and total time, seeking more uniformity in the former and a reduction in the latter. With the use of Cartesian robots as shown in figure 1, it is possible to automate a greenhouse covering tasks of fruit extraction, temperature analysis, and with the aid of computer vision, classify each item of the planting without any human intervention and detect variations of planting well at the beginning of the production chain.
Image 1: Cartesian robot example.
Cartesian robots (or not) can be equipped with the most diverse tools (commonly referred to as gripper), can be changed automatically according to the daily work script of the robot. In a typical application of precision farming, during the day the robot can use a camera tool to obtain images of each item to be harvested, classify and add the climatic conditions of that moment, the report can then be sent to the crop manager who will have a valuable tool for decision making at planting, while maintaining the uniformity of the process of crop analysis in the field. In another application the same robot can analyze the soil conditions using equidistant points and always at the same time, as is the case of the concept presented in figure 2, Farmbot.
Image 2: Farmbot Concept, Robot for Open Source Agriculture.
In addition to the Cartesian robots, the robot arm type with 7 degrees of freedom (7DoF), has been a fairly common candidate to deal with automation of fruit harvest, especially those more sensitive like tomato or peach. The robot in this case has the advantage of having more freedom of movement, since the fruits do not grow in regular locations, their harvest requires a more complex movement process, complexity is solved by the 7 degrees of freedom that can be translated as a replica of the movements performed by a human arm (image 3). Robots of this type still have the same gripper characteristics as cartesian robots, being possible to add different tools for different types of planting, some grippers may contain torque sensor at the tips, guaranteeing firmness at harvest without damaging the fruit.
Image 3: Robotic arm with gripper.
Do we have technology for this?
The short answer? Yes, it is even possible to implement positioning algorithms with errors below the millimeter with low cost servomotors, enough to compose Cartesian or more complex mechanisms like a 7DoF. Besides that, the robot’s own control unit can be in charge of performing communication tasks with the crop manager, informing the progress of the activities in real time. There are also specific challenges related to the consumption and source of electrical energy needed to power the units. With this limitation solved, one can expect several business opportunities in the market of field robotics, since robots intrinsically bring the positive impact to the most important metrics for agricultural activities that have already been mentioned here.