AgTech: Robotics and Automation in Agriculture

New research released last week by The Boston Consulting Group (BCG) is predicting that advanced robotics will boost productivity by up to 30% in many industries by 2025. Robotics will also lower total labour costs by 18% or more in countries like USA, Japan, China, South Korea and Germany.

Although industrial robots have been used in factories for decades, the use of advanced robots and automation is now reshaping how we grow and harvest the world’s food and fibre.

Boning in meatworks has already been automated. Robotic milking systems are growing in popularity, easing staff workloads and lifting milk production. Robots are increasingly being used for tasks like weed management, fertilising and seeding. It seems now that the use of multiple cooperative highly autonomous farm vehicles could lead to the next step in agricultural automation.

Robotic technology is about to transform the way we produce food.

Unmanned tractors, an on-farm version of Google's driverless car, is now been trialled in Australia. The tractor is guided by GPS signals and trials by Rice Research Australia, and their Japanese partners, have been successful in keeping the tractor to within 3cm accuracy. The specialised satellite system also provides useful data like engine temperature and fuel usage to the operator.

In New Zealand, Auckland University and RoboticsPlus are developing an "Autonomous Multipurpose Mobile Platform" (AMMP) modular robot to operate autonomously in orchards. Whether it is precision spraying kiwifruit or picking apples, modules like vision sensors, arms and grippers will be designed to be added or removed from the unit depending on the application.

US based Boston Dynamics, who was acquired by Google in 2013, has been at the leading edge of engineering and robotics design for some time now. Boston Dynamics are developing quadrupedal robots that look and walk like cheetahs and dogs. Originally developed for the US Military, these four-legged robots are redefining how machinery can move across rugged terrain. While wheeled and tracked vehicles still have a strong future, its not hard to see how this technology will be used by farmers in the future.

Boston Dynamics, Rice Research Australia and Auckland University will all be presenting at the upcoming MobileTECH 2015 event series. This series will profile advances in robotics, automation and the increasing use of UAVs or remotely piloted aircraft. MobileTECH 2015 is running for these regions primary industries on 21-22 April in the Gold Coast, Australia and again on 29-30 April in Auckland, New Zealand.

"The objective of this event series is to profile innovative new technology, demonstrate how its being used and discuss operationally and financially just what it has meant to the early adopters," says Programme Manager for Connex: Event Innovators, Ken Wilson.

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