ROBOCROP

The Earth Rover ‘farmer’ who never stops, come rain or shine (and he’s a whizz at weed­ing!)

The Irish Mail on Sunday - - COMMENT - By Jonathan Bucks

IT CAN zap weeds with lasers and har­vest crops with ease.

Hailed as the po­ten­tial saviour of the farm­ing in­dus­try, Earth Rover is a ro­bot de­vice de­signed by the sci­en­tists re­spon­si­ble for a Mars Rover project.

Thanks to cut­ting-edge optical imag­ing and 3D cam­era tech­nol­ogy, Earth Rover pro­to­types have suc­cess­fully mon­i­tored in­di­vid­ual crops, spot­ting dis­eases and de­ter­min­ing when they are ready to be picked.

The Rover, which is about a year away from be­ing rolled out to farms in Bri­tain, will also be equipped with lasers to de­stroy weeds and in­tel­li­gent plant recog­ni­tion tech­nol­ogy to make sure it does not dam­age valu­able crops.

Its on­board com­puter will also en­able it to per­form ‘se­lec­tive har­vest­ing’, en­sur­ing crops are picked at pre­cisely the mo­ment that they are fully grown.

The British com­pany be­hind the project, also named Earth Rover, is work­ing with Harper Adams agri­cul­tural univer­sity and RAL Space Au­ton­o­mous Sys­tems Group, which de­signed the Ex­oMars rover – a Euro­pean Space Agency ro­bot due to land on the Red Planet in 2020.

The de­vice is cur­rently com­plet­ing field tri­als at Polly­bell Or­ganic Farm in Don­caster and the farm’s fi­nance direc­tor, James Brown, is op­ti­mistic that the tech­nol­ogy can of­fer farm­ers a bright fu­ture.

He said a fleet of six Earth Rovers armed with ar­ti­fi­cial in­tel­li­gence tech­nol­ogy en­abling them to com­mu­ni­cate with one an­other would do more work than 200 farmhands.

‘Weed­ing and pick­ing crops is hard work and one of those jobs that is ripe for au­to­ma­tion,’ Mr Brown said.

Paul Harter, chief tech­nol­ogy of­fi­cer for Earth Rover, added: ‘This is the fu­ture of farm­ing... ‘Earth Rover is in­formed by space tech­nol­ogy but these ro­bots are very sim­ple and user­friendly.’

ON A ROLL: Earth Rover tends a field, top, and the Ex­oMars, above

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