New technologies for agriculture – Robotics, AI, and Advanced Farm Machinery

by Dr CL Williams and Dr PC Wootton-Beard Farming Connect Knowledge Exchange Hub, IBERS, Aberystwyth University

EssEntial to most smart technology and precision agriculture is the development of the hardware and software capable of performing advanced tasks. Robots range from a machine in a factory all the way to semi- automated agricultural Robots (agBots), which carry out field-based tasks such as weeding or herbicide application and feed pushing or manure collection.

Companies in the dairy sector are at the forefront of agBot development and examples, include manure cleaning robots that can be operated and/or programmed using a smartphone. they collect manure and release water (helping make the manure more liquid and easier to take in), resulting in a cleaner barn floor, improved animal welfare and reduced health and safety risks.

an automated strip-grazing system moves electric fencing using two robots to ensure complete grazing. the robots aim to maximise pasture utilisation by moving at a speed that ensures all forage has been consumed.

automated feeding robots are also available, and can be programmed to dispense a range of different feed mixes at pre-set times of the day. this can help increase feed intake, improving animal fertility, production, and health in addition to reducing labour. Weeding robots have also been developed to recognise any weed and navigate their way around the field using sensors and cameras.

Whilst the use of robots reduces reliance on human labour it also allows allocation of labour into tasks which require human intuition. the most advanced robots will be able to gather information as they operate, and compare the data they receive with past information and central databases, to continually improve their efficiency.

Modern tractors, for example, already have advanced on- board computers, able to use a range of information from different sources. as such, driverless tractors may be fully independent or may require supervision, such as a manned tractor in the lead. in addition to carrying out tasks, autonomous vehicles can carry sensors and cameras, collecting data as they go and allowing easy monitoring of crop health and status.

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