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  • Writer's pictureOlivia

Robotic Drones: Transforming Farms of the Tomorrow

Robotic drones have been utilized more and more in agriculture recently to increase crop yields, cut expenses, and streamline farming. Currently, it is heavily influenced by tools and technologies such as satellite and aerial imagery, GIS, GNSS/GPS, automated sensors, and high-tech equipment. Drones and robots are among the industry's trendiest buzzwords. Small-scale, high-margin agriculture is starting to use completely autonomous or robotic field machines with high GPS or GNSS accuracy.

Robotic drones are Unmanned Aerial Vehicles (UAVs) that are used in agriculture. Precision agriculture is a contemporary farming technique that employs Big Data, aerial images, and other tools to maximize efficiency. In order to provide aerial monitoring, inspection, and intelligence-gathering capabilities, they offer strong data processing capabilities facilitated by cloud-based computing.

Robotic Drones Lead the Charge in Agricuture’s Automation Revolution

The agriculture sector is adopting new automation technologies, as headlines suggest. Below are a few businesses that provide innovative solutions to producers.

Autonomous Weeding Robot

The 9-foot-long robot, created by startup Carbon Robotics to weed row crop fields, has been updated. According to Seattle Times, the "autonomous weeder" is meant to take the place of the requirement for pesticides or human labor.

The robot can zap unwanted plants at up to five miles per hour due to its twelve cameras and eight lasers. When cameras underneath it scan the ground and artificial intelligence identifies the weeds among the crops, it uses GPS technology to keep within a geofence at the edge of the field.

Harvest Automation

With its strawberry-picking robots, Tortuga, a harvest automation firm, raised $20 million in Series A funding. According to Fresh Fruit Portal, the company intends to use the investment to assist in launching the robots on the market in 2022.

The company claims that the strawberry harvesting robot is a flexible platform that can be modified to perform on various crops, such as outdoor table grapes or tomatoes cultivated indoors.

Drone Use For Pesticides

In agriculture, using drones to spray pesticides has become more popular. Capital Press reported that Boston-based startup Guardian Agriculture, which created an autonomous crop-dusting drone meant to complement or take the place of low-flying planes, reportedly raised $10.5 million in a seed round.

The startup received backing from Ag giants such as Bayer, Wilbur-Ellis, and FMC Corp. and has already received preorders worth $20 million from growers in Florida and California. According to the company, its drones would reduce overall chemical consumption by around one-third, save farmers money, prevent pesticide drift, and improve worker safety.

AgDaily reports that although a study is still being done to determine how drones compare to conventional methods, they may offer an alternative to conventional spraying techniques.

Innovation Takes Flight: Latest Breakthroughs in Robotic Drones

Precision agriculture technologies such as High-Throughput Plant Phenotyping (HTPP), which integrates genetics, sensors, and robots, are being developed by technology suppliers like Blue River Technologies. It is used to create new crop "lines" or varieties to enhance characteristics including nutrient content, drought tolerance, insect tolerance, and plant physical characteristics like height, leaf number, size, shape, angle, color, wilting, stalk thickness, etc. To build a 4th Generation Robot for Production Ag, the business obtained $17 million in Series B funding.

Sentera LLC has introduced autonomous flight planning to its AgVaultTM 2.0 mobile app for agriculture. The business was successful in raising $8.5 million in a capital round. At the field edge, farmers can use AgVault to highlight a field, autonomously fly a UAV, acquire accurate imagery, manage data, create QuickTileTM maps, and send data to a piece of equipment.

Production of crops and livestock has benefited from the deployment of smaller drones such as those produced by DJI and 3DR. They work well for capturing imagery for precision management decisions including variable-rate in-season fertilization, weed detection, livestock inventory, and diagnosing sick animals. They are perfect for scouting crops and livestock.

Recently, the Agras MG-1, marketed as one of the best agricultural drones, was released, according to DJI, the largest drone manufacturer in the world. The Agras is an octocopter used to apply pesticides or fertilizers across large tracts of agriculture. DJI asserts that it is 40–60 times more effective than hand spraying since it can cover a vast area quickly — 4,000–6,000 sq meters in just 10 minutes. The DJI Agras MG-1 is comprised of materials that are anti-corrosive, waterproof, and dustproof. After use, it may be easily folded, rinsed clean, and transport.

A Japanese business by the name of SPREAD launched the first "indoor lettuce robot farm" in the world in 2017. The fully automated farming method would make lettuce more affordable and environmentally friendly.

Going by the Geography

Recognizing the potential, countries across the globe are working to expand automation in the agriculture sector with help from the government and business initiatives.

Europe: The CROPS project, funded by the EU, aims to create a highly configurable, modular platform that consists of a modular manipulator and "intelligent tools" (sensors, algorithms, sprayers, and grippers) that can be easily installed onto the carrier and that can adapt to new tasks and conditions. This platform will be used to sustainably produce and harvest high-value crops. It has a separate robotic platform that is capable of selective fruit picking and intelligent spraying (targeted spraying solely on foliage and specific targets).

North America: The region presently produces the most commercial UAVs, especially for the agricultural market. The North Dakota State University (NDSU) started a drone-based agricultural research initiative. The study is NDSU's most recent effort to learn how UAS can improve agricultural production and the state's economy. In order to collect image data over a 440-mile corridor in east-central North Dakota, the current project uses an Elbit Hermes 450, a small roto-copter, and a fixed-wing UAS. For the 2016 crop-growing season, data will be gathered every two weeks.

Asia-Pacific: China is considered as being ahead of other emerging countries in the race to include more self-driven solutions into their field and agricultural operations. According to a survey by Guotai Junan Securities, the market for plantation unmanned aerial services in China is worth 30 billion yuan ($4.5 billion) annually as the government works to improve uniformity and automation in the agriculture sector.

The Way Ahead

A participative approach is needed to educate the community about the uses and advantages of these technologies in the context of society as a whole, where robotic drone technology is expanding rapidly.

These technologies can increase productivity and give farmers a proper roadmap for doing systematic farming. The farming community could benefit from more studies and attempts to make this technology more affordable for poor farmers.

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