Robotic trials herald a game-changer for ag
NEW research released by The Boston Consulting Group (BCG) is predicting that advanced robotics will boost productivity by up to 30 per cent in many industries by 2025. 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 and 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. Unmanned tractors, an on-farm version of Google's driverless car, are 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 3-centimetre 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, which 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 United States military, these four-legged robots are redefining how machinery can move across rugged terrain. While wheeled and tracked vehicles still have a strong future, it's 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 presented robotics technology at the recent MobileTECH 2015 event series, which was held at Auckland and on the Gold Coast. The series profiled advances in robotics, automation and the increasing use of UAVs or remotely piloted aircraft. Program manager for Connex Event Innovators, Ken Wilson, said MobileTech2015 aimed to profile innovative new technology and demonstrate how it's being used, while discussing operationally and financially just what it has meant to the early adopters. “The technologies been applied in manufacturing or operationally within the agricultural, horticultural, forestry, fisheries or grain industries more often than not are able to be replicated across the primary sector,” Mr Wilson said. “MobileTECH 2015 is one of few technology events where the developers, researchers and end-users can come together to discuss new innovations, opportunities for collaboration and the real results from early adoption.”
Unmanned tractors are now been trialled in Australia.