With hatching robots, the strategy is integrated

Salads are made with weeding robots

Artificial intelligence is already in place and ensures the preconditions for a technological leap forward for our agriculture. The agbot market in our country has not yet gained momentum, but the driving force for innovation is very strong. And it has already brought the first results ….

For many years, the concept of weeds has automatically involved treatments with synthetic drugs on crops. Today, however, it is inevitable to turn to integrated weed management strategies, as is already the case with plant nutrition and defense against pathogens. And why not, take a look at the latest generation of machines that take the business directly to 4.0.

Article taken from Terra e Vita 17/2022

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The turning point is very necessary, the push comes from many sides: the increase in resistance to agro-pharmaceutical products, the systematic reduction of the active ingredients that can be used, the lack of labor or the high cost of specialized staff, provided they are available. And then, the EU’s Farm to fork strategy and the increased sensitivity to environmental issues, which leads to a reduction in chemical synthesis and carbon dioxide emissions.

The horticultural sector is therefore also encouraged to make this effort. One of the alternatives definitely comes from mechanical weeds. Today, this type of operation can be performed not only with harrows, weed machines and harrows, “heavy” machines. But also with intelligent and autonomous devices that, by utilizing sensors, cameras and guide systems, improve work efficiency and facilitate the activities of operators.

Although these robotic solutions are still few and still need to overcome some obstacles before they can replace traditional equipment, automation is making rapid progress that will allow it to exceed current limits. Among these, there is certainly the fact that such innovative solutions need some time to get into farms and to be better managed by farmers who are still open to innovation, especially in the case of small and easy to handle.

The practical application of the digital revolution

It has been through a pandemic crisis, the war in Ukraine and related problems, but the digital revolution in agriculture continues its growth. This is according to the report of the Smart Agrifood Observatory of the Politecnico di Milano, which shows that the Italian agricultural 4.0 market is developing exponentially, tripling its value compared to the beginning of 2020 and reaching 1.6 billion in 2021.

The sector drives the sector is the voice from Mechanization 4.0, where among the built-in connected agricultural machinery and equipment also the range of robots is on the way. In agriculture they are called agribot (agricultural robot).

Among the leading international companies in the development of robotic solutions for agriculture is Naïo Technologies, a French startup with a number of suitable models that can be used in various crop systems, from outdoor horticulture (Dino and Orio) to vineyards (Ted) to protected crops (Oz).

Robot Dino

It is the first fully electric autonomous robot to perform mechanical hatching on various types of crops. His name is Dino. It was designed for large-scale horticulture. Thanks to the mechanical parts mounted on a tool bar, it performs accurate weeding operations on many types of crops (for example, lettuce, cabbage, leeks, beets, tomatoes, onions, carrots, celery and many others).

Dino is 2.5 meters long, 1.3 meters high with a wheelbase of 1.50 to 2.10 meters. It weighs about 1000 kg with instruments and batteries included, which guarantees an autonomy in the fields of eight hours. The four electric motors allow a forward speed of up to 4 km / h, working up to five hectares for each charging cycle.

Thanks to the guide based on GPS Rtk satellite receivers, which guarantee precision to centimeters, to the innovative safety system and to the many sensors installed on board, the robot moves with absolute precision along the virtual tracks tracked in the fields.

Thanks to a camera mounted on the front of the machine, Dino is also able to detect the crop on the ground; by identifying the row, the robot is able to change the position of the weed elements in real time to always perform a process as close as possible to the crop without ever damaging it.

Orio robot

Orio robot

It is the new robot developed by Naio Technologies, presented at World Fira 2021. It will replace Dino as it can perform the same functions and is intended for the same market segment. It is also completely electric and autonomous, but it has significant differences with its predecessor.

The first is the presence of a rear three-point electrical coupling. This, combined with larger dimensions (4m x 2m x variable wheelbase 1.8-2.15m) and a greater power of the four motors present, will allow you to attach operating machines, extending the work that can be performed from precision sowing for localized distribution of fertilizers. . Or it allows you to connect another toolbar for mechanical machining in addition to the ventral.

The second change concerns the possibility of replacing the batteries in the field. This element allows you to significantly increase the efficiency of the robot. In fact, after the canonical eight hours of autonomy, replacing the batteries can have an effective working time of 16 hours. Since it does not need daylight to work, the robot with a third replacement could continue its operations even at night and achieve a working time of 24 hours. The third implementation, probably the most innovative, concerns the possibility of mechanical weeding on the row. Thanks to a camera that identifies the individual plants, Orio operates mechanical devices that work around the plants also weeding the row. That way, the weed control is total.

Robots Oz

It is the smallest in the French house, but it contains many features available. 1.3 m long, 47 cm wide and 83 cm high, it weighs 150 kg and has a towing capacity of over 300 kg. Completely electric and autonomous in its movements, it has an autonomy of eight hours and a maximum forward speed of 2 km / h, which is suitable for operation in horticultural and nursery contexts or in any case with small surfaces.

In addition to harrowing, chopping, stomping and mechanical weeding in general, precision seed drills can also be integrated on Oz, allowing all operations to be performed with a single tool, from sowing to harvest.

A method of equipping the robot with a spray system is currently under development. In this way, Oz will also be able to perform phytosanitary treatments, thus preventing operators from penetrating the greenhouses for the manual execution of these operations, with all the associated problems and risks.

As far as Italy is concerned, the market for robots in agriculture today is almost non-existent, but the interest and desire to innovate is great. The distribution of these machines is entrusted in our country to Agrico, which is the concession holder for two robot companies: Naïo Technologies and Ecorobotix. While the first aims at performing processing without the use of chemical products, the second instead admits the use, but aims at a drastic reduction in volume. Let’s see what it actually is.

The “smart” spray boom

Ecorobotix is ​​a Swiss startup, developer of an “intelligent” spray boom, called Ara, that is able to distinguish crops from weeds and to implement localized spraying on the target.

The bar has a working width of 6 meters and can reach a speed of up to 7 km / h, which makes it possible to treat a surface corresponding to 4 ha / h. The spray system is composed of 156 high-precision nozzles, which are always kept under pressure and only activated in accordance with the stated target. The two tanks have a total maximum capacity of 700 liters.

Ara are equipped with high-resolution cameras that are able to identify several types of plants in their various stages of development, whether they are weeds or crops, as long as they are previously cataloged and inserted into its algorithm.

The machine has also been programmed to operate the nozzles according to the target and implement a localized distribution of the product.

Depending on the degree of presence of pests, the reduction in distributed input can be up to 95%. Therefore, in addition to the resulting economic savings, a reduction in phytotoxicity is achieved.

The procedure is applicable to various phytosanitary treatments: it can be used to apply herbicides, fungicides and insecticides, simply by targeting the weeds or the crops themselves.

Currently, the spray boom can be used on various crops such as beans, lettuce, onions, beets, rapeseed, alfalfa and developed on soybeans.

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