In November 2012, Harper Adams University College hosted AgRobots – a specialist, half-day workshop dealing with research and development in robotics applied to precision farming.
Showcasing Anglo-Japanese collaboration, AgRobots featured presentations by Professor Noboru Noguchi, Professor for Vehicle Robotics, Hokkaido University, Sapporo, Japan. Professor Noguchi also lead a workshop on the subject of Robotic Farming Systems, with a particular focus on the use of multiple robots.
Professor Simon Blackmore, Head of Engineering at Harper Adams University College, with research interests including precision farming, agricultural robots and smart machines, instrumentation systems, farm management information systems and decision support, explained the principles behind a selective harvester:
It’s a robotic machine that has the ability to sense the crop in front of it and only harvest that part of the crop which is of saleable value. At the moment farmers will go out and harvest the whole crop and there will be natural variability within the crop, but the supermarkets want onions of a particular size, or a lettuce with particular characteristics, and unfortunately because of that variability, farmers can end up throwing away 40-50% of that crop. The concept of selective harvesting is based on the ability to judge the quality of the crop that’s in front of the machine and it will then only pick those pats of the crop that can be sold directly.
The minute by minute operations of such farming robotics are pretty self-sufficient and are governed by GPS and crop data; however, as with the auto-steer tractors discussed in an earlier blog, a human is still required in a supervisory capacity. Yet the potential for efficiency can be recognised if you consider thatone human could oversee a dozen or more machines.
David Willetts, Science Minister, believes that the UK can become Europe's centre of satellite technology: 'We want entrepreneurs, people from the agricultural sector, business leaders, to harness this data in order to make agriculture more productive and profitable.'
(Image Credit: 849356 at www.pixabay.com)