Electronics & Computers

AUTOMATICA 2014: Service robots in agriculture

February 26, 2014

"Farming intelligence" creates greater value

Service robots are revolutionizing the agricultural sector. They sew, weed, fertilize and feed animals with increasing autonomy. Field robots account for a 33-percent share of all service robots sold in 2012. More efficient processes in harvest logistics are increasing productivity and farmers' ability to compete, and driverless vehicles are relieving farmers who, until now, spent up to half of the time they spent working on transportation alone. For the first time ever, AUTOMATICA from June 3–6 will give marketable service robotics its own platform in the new exhibition area for professional service robotics.

Strong as a team

The German Ministry of Economics' joint project marion (mobile autonomous cooperative robots in complex value chains) is setting new trends. CLAAS, a global leader in agricultural technology, is working with researchers to develop a planning system that calculates routes for combine harvesters and infield transporters that coordinate with one another. Important parameters are filling levels, harvested space, fluctuating yields and the position and speed of the GPS-controlled machines. "Together, machines that coordinate with one another are more efficient than if each machine acts alone," says Dr. Hermann Garbers, Managing Director for Technology and Quality at CLAAS. This type of system is already in use at a test site near the CLAAS factory in Harsewinkel. "The results of the marion project must be integrated further into existing technology," says Prof. Dr. Joachim Hertzberg, Head of the Field Office of the German Research Center for Artificial Intelligence' (DFKI) Robotics Innovation Center at Osnabrück University. "Doing so will give machines that have been tried and tested more autonomy and intelligence'".

Using automation to conserve resources

The Danish company Kongskilde Industries A/S developed the Vibro Crop Robotti agriculture platform, an independent module with an electrical belt drive for connecting various types of equipment. This allows the robot to accurately plant seeds and mechanically remove weeds, especially for row crops. Farmers use fewer resources to get higher yields and—thanks to sensor-based measuring technology—protect the environment thanks to targeted fertilization and the use of fewer chemicals. "The technology in agricultural robotics is very advanced," explains Ole Green, Head of Strategic Development at Kongskilde. "In the next few years, a number of new products will show up on the market that will increase automation in plant production."

World-class technologies for an intact environment

The Robovator for selective hoeing in row crops from F. Poulsen Engineering ApS is also a Danish innovation. Digital cameras recognize weeds based on the height of the plant and send a pulse to the hydraulic tines, and the hoeing tools swivel in and out. The gardener can intervene and change settings manually at any time. The Robovator has its own electrical and oil supplies and moves at speeds of up to 4 km/h, even at night, and it is particularly suitable for organic farms that want to weed their crops without chemicals. "We are moving away from weeding with chemicals and toward mechanical solutions—both in organic and conventional agriculture," explains Frank Poulsen. "The reasons for this are regulations on the use of herbicides and increased demand for sustainable food production."

Healthy cows—Good milk

Netherlands-based Lely Industries, a leading manufacturer of robot milking systems, has an entire line of products, from stall cleaning systems to automatic feeding systems and the Lely Astronaut milking robot. The key is that the robots recognize feeding signals and adapt the composition and quality of the feed and the feeding technique to suit demand. Serge Loosveld, Software Engineering Manager at Lely, is proud of his collaboration with Lely Triodor in Instanbul, which specializes in software development, HMI interfaces, mobile Apps and embedded software for machines: "Together we developed the first web-based management system," explains Loosveld. "It provides nearly 10,000 dairy farmers around the world with data about the health, productivity and welfare of their cows as well as farm-specific information on herd management. IT increases productivity and quality and cuts costs."

High tech—Europe's strength

"European manufacturers are global leaders in the agricultural robotics sector," says Martin Hägele from the Fraunhofer IPA. "The portfolio ranges from milking, feeding and automated stall-cleaning systems to driver assistance in mobile farming machines and robotics solutions in greenhouses, fruit plantations and vineyards, floriculture and forest management."

The rapidly growing world population is also causing demand for food to increase. Using high tech in the farmer's field is the key to increasing production. The future belongs to systems that can operate autonomously such as driverless vehicles, laser scanners that can scan entire crops in rows, sophisticated sensor technology that—together with high-precision GPS systems—guarantee safe and autonomous navigation, even in cooperation with people, and sensor fusion, which intelligently combines the values measured by different sensor systems. That is the basis for service robots in agriculture, i.e. the approaching agricultural revolution.

Supporting program—Highlights at AUTOMATICA 2014

AUTOMATICA 2014 showcases the latest developments in professional service robotics from research and actual practice. The AUTOMATICA Forum in Hall B5 has devoted a separate lecture series to the topic. The presentation titled "Vision-guided robotics in the agriculture and food industry: The advantages of close cooperation between research and SMEs" on June 4 will take a closer look at the topic of service robotics in agriculture.

Watch the service robotics film of AUTOMATICA at http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=dzrLNbCLluo  

For more details about Professional Service Robotics, visit http://www.automatica-servicerobotics.com

Additional information about AUTOMATICA: http://automatica-munich.com

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