New Soil Sampling Autonomous Robot Aims to Boost Farm Production
Jeffrey Heimgartner posted on September 19, 2019 |

With most things trending toward becoming “smart,” agriculture is right in line with the evolution. A recent innovation by Purdue University College of Agriculture researchers Troy Fiechter and Drew Schumacher has turned into the startup Rogo Ag, which includes autonomous robots designed for taking soil samples.

Precise soil samples are an important element in production and cost savings in agriculture. These samples provide vital field information about nutrient levels. With this knowledge, farmers can enhance yields and reduce the costs associated with fertilizer, as well as gain insight into groundwater contamination. Unfortunately, sampling can be inconsistent by as much as 20 percent when using traditional methods.

“People often think that because you stick a probe six inches into the soil that means six inches of soil are extracted,” Schumacher said. “But a probe might plug up and you collect less than six inches. Or it might plug up and send a wad of dirt down into the rest of the soil. There are a lot of things that can go wrong if you don’t use the right equipment. Our depth is accurate within an eighth of an inch 100 percent of the time, and it’s fully extracted every time.”

A pair of Purdue University graduates founded Rogo Ag, developer of an autonomous robot, SmartCore, that is designed to collect accurate, repeatable soil samples. (Image courtesy of Purdue Research Foundation/Oren Darling.)
A pair of Purdue University graduates founded Rogo Ag, developer of an autonomous robot, SmartCore, that is designed to collect accurate, repeatable soil samples. (Image courtesy of Purdue Research Foundation/Oren Darling.)

Rogo Ag’s SmartCore was designed to provide 100 percent accuracy. SmartCore, which is a Bobcat skid steer chassis that autonomously navigates via LiDAR sensors and boundary algorithms, includes a real-time kinematic GPS. SmartCore collects samples via a high-speed hydraulic auger bit, providing accuracy, purity and depth control. It then packages and labels each sample to be shipped to a third-party laboratory for analysis.

“With a more accurate soil sampling service, you can cut out fertilizer where it’s not needed and add fertilizer where it is needed to boost yields, and ultimately, significantly improve the bottom line for every farmer,” Schumacher said. “We’re passionate about solving real problems, and it just so happens a robot helps solve this problem.”

Rogo Ag currently has two SmartCores that have sampled fields in Indiana, Ohio and Illinois. The founders are working on expanding the fleet to four systems and continue researching and developing the technology.

For a more in-depth look at the future of farming, check out Smart Farming—Automated and Connected Agriculture.

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