The Scotsman

Can’t get the staff? Then wel­come to robo­trac­tor

- By BRIAN HEN­DER­SON bhen­der­son@farm­

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.

 ??  ?? 0 The Robotrik Trac­tion Unit
0 The Robotrik Trac­tion Unit

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