Agricultural Robot to Transform Crop Monitoring for Farmers

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A robot under development in the University of Illinois is reported to automate the labor-intensive process of crop phenotyping, which enables scientists to scan crops and match genetic data with the highest-yielding plants.

Agricultural robot can continuously track and monitor crop health giving updated data regarding field conditions. It is guided using GPS and a computer. A semiautonomous robot may soon be roaming agricultural fields gathering and transmitting real-time data about the growth and development of crops, information that crop breeders and farmers can use to identify the genetic traits in plants likely to produce the high yields.

The robot uses hyperspectral, high-definition thermal cameras, weather monitors, and pulsed laser scanners to capture phenotypic information such as the stem diameter, height and leaf area of each plant to assess environmental conditions, such as the temperature and moisture content of the soil. The data is stored in an onboard computer and it is transmitted in real time to the grower’s computer. Scientists use the data to create a 3-D reconstruction of each plant, develop predictive models for the plant’s growth and development and estimate the biomass yield for each plant and the entire plot.

“Immediate access to the data is very important for crop breeders in the U.S.,” said U. of I. agricultural and biological engineering professor Girish Chowdhary. “It’s very important for them to see and visualize the data. If the data are available to the breeder quickly, then they can make actionable decisions.”

According to Agriculture Robots Market report published by Coherent Market Insights, robots have wide applications in agriculture, which includes soil analysis, cloud seeding, weed control, planting seeds, environmental monitoring, and harvesting. Rosphere, Merlin Robot Milker, harvest automation, and orange harvester are some of the prototypes of robots in this field. Although the researchers currently are using the robot to assess fields of energy sorghum, a crop used in biofuel production, they say the robot would perform equally well with other tall-growing row crops such as corn and wheat. The team expects to have a prototype built within two years and begin manufacturing with the goal of having the robot in the market by 2021.


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