Can’t get the staff? Then welcome to robotractor
While it might look like the result of crashing a go-kart into a pile of scaffolding, the Robotrik Traction Unit (RTU) claims to be the first step towards making onfarm robots not only practical, but affordable as well.
Agricultural robots have gained in popularity as farmers increasingly turn to advancing technologies to improveef ficienci es, but they often come with a hefty price tag.
However, makers of the farm robot claim their platform, by using offthe-shelf parts, can be built at low cost and can be ready to get to work within a few hours.
“The aim is to create a system which is affordable and reliable ,” said Jake Shaw-sutton, director at Robotriks.
Stating that the( R TU) cost just £7,000, he said this was almost a tenth of the cost of most others on the market.
Aimed at addressing short ages of manual labour on farms around the country, Shaw-Sutton, who also works as a senior robotics technic ian at the Un iv er sity of Plymouth said :“It’ s not about taking away jobs, it’s about filling jobs
where there currently are no people available to do them.
"For awhile there have been fewer people willing to go out into the fields and harvest fruit and vegetables; this is an autonomous solution to that.”
The unit comprises a large drive wheel, suspension and a computer system, held together by galvanised pipe – on which farmers can attach much many everyday implements.
“This includes conventional items such as a tow hitch, wheelbarrow or grass cutter, but also more high-tech and new devices including soil probes, robotic harvesting arms or depth cameras for 3D crop rendering.”
The component parts are all mass produced rather than specialist, including the brushless hub motor which is from an electric bike.
“We’ re trying to make it as simple as possible. We currently have three options; the first uses a remote control to drive the unit to a location, mark it as a point, drive to the next position and mark another point–then it will keep driving between those points,” said ShawSutton, who has a practical background in farming.
“The second uses an online map, which appears on a display with the current location. The operator can click where they want to send the unit and it will go there,” he said, adding that the third, fully autonomous version was currently under development.
The unit can carry several hundred kilos and is limited to run at up to 10 mph, matching walkin gorrunningp ace and has the ability to tow or mount just about any equipment needed:
“It can be used for a range of things, from crop monitoring to harvesting crops like cauliflowers ,” said Shaw-Sutton, who explained that thetr actor unit is powered by batteries, which last for 24 hours.
He said that although the RT U was still in the testing phase, it was being offered comm ercially to researchers with the hope that it will have enough functionality to reach a wider market over the next year.