An autonomous robot named AgroIntelli Robotti will is driving around the test fields of Wageningen University & Research (WUR) today. This high-tech autonomous platform will support ecological processes, forming a bridge between technological applications and ecological principles.
A series of projects in WUR Field Crobs agroecology and technology test location in Lelystad combine the monitoring of crops (phenotyping) with controlled-traffic farming systems). The intensive monitoring, needed to understand the ecology of crops, can now be done automatically by using camera techniques in tandem with an autonomous vehicle.
New agronomic and technological insights require equipment that can deploy up to 30-40 hp for operations such as seedbed preparation, hoeing and fertilising. The Robotti is ideal for this type of work as standard tools can be connected. It also features cameras, which means it can be deployed to ensure diversity in agriculture: for example, the Robotti can use precision techniques to tackle individual weed plants.
The Robotti is about the size of a small tractor and can therefore be used directly by farmers. At the same time, it is relatively light and has a relatively narrow working width, which means it can also be effectively deployed for strip cultivation and even mixed cultivation. The Robotti’s dimensions and weight make it ideal for the transition to a more nature-inclusive agricultural system designed along ecologically sound lines.
To make the system more autonomous in use, WUR will conduct research in the coming period into issues such as cooperation and interaction between multiple robots. This will include sharing knowledge on which piece of land has already been cultivated and where a transport robot should go to collect produce from a harvesting robot.
Transition into practice
The Robotti will be deployed in various WUR tests in the years ahead to enable cultivation systems and the robot itself to be optimised. Examples include the SMARAGD-Farmtronics project, which focuses on the development of light autonomous mechanisation aimed at improving soil quality and crop resilience.
Continuous testing of the individual elements and the way they fit together in practice will enable us to demonstrate the possibilities. This will make it increasingly attractive for farmers to follow agroecological principles in their operations. In this sense, technology and ecology are working together to produce an agricultural system that will also be sustainable in the long term.