This unmanned agricultural robot could transform the industry

It’s built to be modular so it can continue to function even if a component fails.
Loukia Papadopoulos
A robot truck to tackle labor shortages.
A robot truck to tackle labor shortages.

Robotics Plus 

New Zealand-based agritech company Robotics Plus has launched an autonomous multi-use, modular vehicle for agriculture that could revolutionize the industry by alleviating ongoing labor shortages and simplifying agricultural tasks, according to a press release by the firm published on Thursday.

Optimizing tasks

The robot can be supervised in a fleet of vehicles by a single human operator, using a combination of vision systems and other technologies to sense its environment. This empowers it to optimize tasks and allow intelligent and targeted application of inputs such as sprays. It is suitable for a variety of jobs including spraying, weed control, mulching, mowing and crop analysis.

Steve Saunders, Co-founder and CEO of Robotics Plus, said his team collaborated with growers to engineer the unique modular architecture of its vehicle. The new machine can now operate in a variety of environments making it multipurpose.

“We’ve created a flexible agricultural platform with the power to adapt to different crop types with tools for various applications, providing year-round automation benefits and maximizing machine utilization,” he said.

“To adapt and thrive in a changing world and create a sustainable and competitive future in the agricultural and speciality tree crop sector - growers and orchardists need automation that solves real-world problems, reduces reliance on increasingly costly and hard-to-find machine operators and provides data-driven insights for informed decision-making.”

This unmanned agricultural robot could transform the industry
The agri-robot in action.

The team also focused on producing a good return on investment when it comes to the machine, ensuring that automation could be adopted for widespread use.

“Our multi-purpose vehicle replaces tractors and other tools. But it does much more than just replacing labor – it’s loaded with intelligence to improve efficiencies,” he said.

One of the first case uses for the technology is intelligent spraying where the system intelligently varies the flow rate to ensure uniform and efficient output.

A small footprint

Furthermore, the machine has a small footprint as it allows significantly more ground to be covered than machines which turn on every second row or greater. The robot can be deployed in a variety of applications in various crop types with a minimum row spacing of 1.8M/6ft.

Dr Alistair Scarfe, Co-founder and CTO of Robotics Plus, said that the vehicle’s hybrid electric diesel engine delivers an impressive performance in the field.

“Electric drive motors give superior torque and control, whilst a Tier 4 diesel generator means the vehicle can operate for extended periods. Fuel consumption is minimized by electrically driving all systems, including tools. Regenerative braking and high-capacity batteries also extend efficiency and range,” he explained.

“In addition, the vehicle’s lightweight design and intelligent all-wheel-drive system, with independent wheel motors to ensure grip and control - while significantly reducing ground compaction to protect the soil.”

Finally, the vehicle has been engineered to be modular, making it easy to service even if one of its parts fails. It features no hydraulic, gearbox or differential fluids which means operators can easily keep their vehicles running in case of a component failure by simply swapping out modules when needed.

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