In this episode, Per Sjöborg talks to Dr. Hans-Peter Grothaus, from CLAAS, about automation in agriculture.
There is a small window of time when crops are ready to harvest. If, during this window, not all of the crops are harvested, the farmer can experience large financial losses. This means that systems that automate fieldwork must be reliable. And reliability, or robustness, is a major challenge because field conditions change during the day (it could start raining) and it is tough to know soil conditions in advance. In this interview, these challenges are discussed, as well as how field data can help farmers make decisions and the market for agricultural robotics.
Dr. Hans-Peter Grothaus
Dr. Hans-Peter Grothaus studied Agriculture Sciences at the Universität Göttingen in Germany, where he wrote his dissertation. Since 2008, Grothaus has been the head of development for system-based services at CLAAS in Harsewinkel, Germany.
In this episode, Ron Vanderkley speaks with Professor Peter Corke from Queensland University of Technology, about the fast-tracking research that will see robots planting, weeding, maintaining and harvesting crops. The AgBot is a light-weight, golf buggy-sized robot that has been specifically designed to reduce the environmental impact of weeding. It can navigate wheat farms of around 4000 hectares using low-cost sensors, targeting weeds with spray while they are still very young plants. The Chief Investigators are Peter Corke, Ben Upcroft, Gordon Wyeth and Salah Sukkarieh (ACFR) with Partner Investigator Andrew Bate from SwarmFarm.
Peter Corke Peter Corke joined Queensland University of Technology at the start of 2010 and is known for his research in vision-based robot control, field robotics and wireless sensor networks. He received a B.Eng and M.Eng.Sc. degrees, both in Electrical Engineering, and a PhD in Mechanical and Manufacturing Engineering, all from the University of Melbourne. Prior to QUT he was a senior principal research scientist at CSIRO where he founded the Autonomous Systems Laboratory, a 50-person team undertaking research in mining, ground, aerial and underwater robotics, as well as sensor networks. He subsequently led a major cross-organizational “capability platform” in wireless sensor networks.
In this episode, Ron Vanderkley speaks with David Dorhout from Iowa State University about his Agricultural Robots that include Prospero the robot farmer and Aquarius the greenhouse watering robot.
Today’s agricultural equipment has been designed around a single farmer sitting on large machinery. This method has its drawbacks since farming decisions have to be made at the level of the field. Nature instead is chaotic and dynamic, soil nutrients and moisture change from foot to foot. A swarm of small robots like Prospero would have the ability to farm inch by inch, examining the soil before planting each seed and choosing the best variety for that spot. Ideally, this would maximize the productivity of each acre, allow less land to be converted to farm land, and ultimately feed more people.
Prospero is the working prototype of an Autonomous Micro Planter (AMP) that uses a combination of swarm and game theory to plant seeds at safe distances from one another.
Dorhout’s second agricultural robot Aquarius is a greenhouse robot that autonomously waters plants using its 30 gallon tank. The robot is programed using taping on the ground of the greenhouse.
David Dorhout is a graduate of Iowa State University. He has always been interested in robotics and has 14 years of experience in the agriculture and biotech industry doing field and greenhouse discovery work. He is the founder of Dorhout R&D LLC which is a research and development business designing and building novel robotic systems and interactive consumer electronic devices.
In this episode Sabine Hauert speaks with Jorge Heraud, CEO of California-based startup Blue River Technology which brings together computer vision and robotics to automate agriculture. Their first robot LettuceBot targets the state’s #1 vegetable crop. Its task is to thin rows of lettuce in fields. This involves selectively removing some of the plants by spraying excess fertilizer on them, thereby avoiding overcrowding while fertilizing nearby plants. The tractor-mounted robot is already being rented out to farms across the state.
Heraud tells us about the challenges in robot vision and the rapid growth of Blue River Technology. He shares his hopes to apply their technology to other agriculture tasks and crops with different vision challenges. Finally he explains how this technology will transform the classical workforce on farms.
Jorge Heraud is CEO of Blue River Technology. Before co-founding the company with Lee Redden, a fellow graduate student at Stanford University, Heraud worked in precision agriculture as Director of Business Development at Trimble Navigation. At Stanford he completed an MBA at the Graduate School of Business.
FutureDairy is an R&D development program to help Australian dairy farmers manage the challenges they are likely to face during the next 20 years. In this episode, Ron Vanderkley speaks with the project lead Kendra Kerrisk from the University of Sydney about robotic milking and herding.
As one of the big challenges is the availability of labor and associated lifestyle issues in the dairy industry, FutureDairy’s focus is on automatic milking systems. While robotic milking technology is now in wide use overseas, there’s less experience with automatic milking in grazing-based farming systems such as in Australia. The video below summarizes some of the results from the DeLaval pilot farm in Australia.
With increasing numbers of Australian dairy cows now being milked by robots, researchers are looking at a range of exciting ways to use robots on the farm. One that has already shown promise is the use of robots (UGV) to herd cattle from the paddock to the dairy. In the videos below you can see two trials with the Shrimp rover hearding cows in Australian farms.
Kendra Kerrisk Kendra Kerrisk is Faculty of Veterinary Science at the The University of Sydney in Australia. Kerrisk developed a strong interest for the Dairy Industry whilst conducting undergraduate and post-graduate studies at Massey University in New Zealand and has remained a leader in the field since then. During her PhD at the University of Melbourne she studied Peri-parturient Management for Large Dairy Herds using Controlled Breeding Programmes. After her PhD, she worked for Dexcel (formerly Dairying Research Corporation) in New Zealand on the world’s first pasture-based Automatic Milking System research farm. Through her academic life, she has contributed significantly to the national and international knowledge regarding application of Automatic Milking Systems (AMS) with pasture-based dairying. One of the highlights of the work conducted within FutureDairy, a project which she leads, has been the co-development of the world’s first Robotic Rotary (Automatic Milking Rotary, DeLaval AMRTM). This internationally recognized work will increase the feasibility of robotic milking for large dairy herds that are more common within the Australian and New Zealand industries.