Robotic Automation Meets Agriculture
Kagan Pittman posted on December 18, 2015 | | 8628 views

Robotic automation is the future of production technology. As a result, it makes sense to explore how our robo-friends can help feed our growing population of over 7 billion people.

Thankfully, Panasonic and Bosch subsidiary Deepfield Robotics are working together to produce farming robots to take over the more laborious and menial tasks in the farming industry.

Deepfield Robotics’ Bonirob Farms Carrots by Itself

Bosch subsidiary Deepfield Robotics is in late development and research stages for their Bonirob farm-bot.

The Bonirob farming robot.
The Bonirob farming robot.

Designed to work outdoors, the compact-car-sized robot can perform weed removal, manage plant breeding and perform other laborious tasks in the farming industry.

Using machine learning algorithms, researchers and engineers are training Bonirob to identify the target crop as distinct from invasive plants by using pictures of weeds and desired vegetables.

The robot uses a rod device to crush the weeds, which Deepfield Robotics says eliminates the need for herbicides.

“We are leveraging our expertise in sensor technology, algorithms and image recognition to make a contribution to improving quality of life, even in areas that are new for Bosch,” says Professor Amos Albert, a robotics expert and general manager of Deepfield Robotics.

Bonirob uses video, lidar and satellite navigation to traverse the fields. The company states that these systems are accurate to the nearest centimeter, or about half an inch.

Testing Bonirob in carrot fields proved the robot to be over 90 percent effective at removing weeds and preserving crop plants. It’s hoped the robot will achieve greater efficiency with improved machine learning technology.

Communication devices for the robot are in development, which would make a cohesive fleet of Bonirobs possible, able to communicate with each other as well as human farmers.

Additionally, Deepfield hopes Bonirob could be used as a mobile laboratory to analyze plants to determine which strains are performing stronger than others and so deserve more cultivation.

Bonirob is not yet available for purchase. Check out the Bonirob in action in the video below:

Panasonic’s Tomato Picking Farming Robot

The currently unnamed tomato-picking robot from Panasonic utilizes newly developed sensors and image processing technology to tell ripe veggies from a spoiled or unripe crop.

Panasonic's tomato-picking robot.
Panasonic's tomato-picking robot.

Picking vegetables like tomatoes is a delicate process, especially when it’s a machine doing the picking. As a result, Panasonic is designing its farming robots to be able to accurately asses a tomato’s color, shape and location.

Cameras mounted on the robot capture more than 70,000 pixels. Image sensor identify color. The robot picks the ripe tomatoes by the stem to avoid bruising the fruit.

So far, Panasonic seems to be leaning toward their robot working in greenhouses and other indoor locations. They envision their tomato-picking bot connected to a network and grid system in the floor to easily navigate around crops.

The robot’s design will also allow it to transport and change baskets. When a basket is full, sensor technology alerts the bot to replace the basket.

The robot can also be programmed with variables to determine the desired yield and quality of vegetables to pick. So far, prototypes have been capable of picking one tomato every 20 seconds. Panasonic hopes to cut the time down to six seconds per pick with improved technology.

Panasonic’s move into robotic farming is no experimental venture. Japanese farmers are experiencing a shrinking agricultural workforce. The company is also considering using variations of the machines at its own factories.

Check out the following video (at the one minute, 40 second mark) for a peek at Panasonic’s display for the tomato-picking robot at the recent International Robot Exhibition 2015.

Manufacturing a Better Farm

Robotics manufacturers can revolutionize how societies produce food.

With machine learning technology and necessary maintenance to robots, jobs will be created to sustain and improve upon their use. Food will likely increase in quality and quantity from effective implementation of this technology.

So how quickly will we see robotics companies like FANUC teaming up with John Deere’s smaller competitors to make automated farming technologies the standard? With an estimated human population of 9.7 billion by 2050, let’s hope it happens sooner rather than later.

More information on the Bonirob farming robot can be found at www.deep-field-robotics.com. More info on Panasonic's tomato-picking robot is yet to come.