The autonomous solar-powered ‘seeding and weeding’ robot
There’s growing interest in automation and robotics on farms, particularly with the escalating costs of establishing and managing crops. Richard Amphlet, South West territory manager for Opico tells us about FarmDroid.
As a territory manager for Opico which imports and sells agricultural equipment from leading manufacturers, Richard Amphlet spends his working life around impressive and innovative farming kit. But the FarmDroid FD20 particularly stands out for its ability to manage a crop. Not just for the range of tasks it can carry out, but also because it does these autonomously and at minimal cost.
Richard explains: “Once you have a nice fine seedbed the FarmDroid can handle the rest. It can take responsibility for establishment seeding and blind combing before crop emergence and then both inter-row and intra-row weeding. That is, weeding between the rows and in-between each plant.” It is believed to be the first machine in the world that can plant seeds as well as performing inter and intra row hoeing.
“FarmDroid is completely solar powered and even at its top speed of nearly 1km/hour it is still charging over and above the power it needs to operate. This means when there are 14 hours of daylight it can operate for 16 hours. It doesn’t need any external charging so can be left in the field all season, but should you wish to run for 24 hours, the FarmDroid also includes a 16v rechargeable battery.”
Jens and Kristian Warming started developing the FarmDroid in Denmark in 2011, with the machine being sold as a viable product in 2019, the same year the Warming brothers founded FarmDroid apps. Since then, FarmDroid has sold more than 400 machines globally, with their main customer base in Europe.
The FarmDroid is different from other autonomous vehicles. Other machines use camera systems and leaf recognition artificial intelligence (AI) to enable them to recognise different crops and weeds, but this ‘can be fraught with complications’ says Richard. Instead, the FarmDroid is coupled with a high precision RTK (real-time kinematic) base station on the farm as well as satellites to ensure pinpoint accuracy.
“Because the FarmDroid is responsible for planting every seed it knows its exact location in the field. The FarmDroid therefore has excellent seed placement, with an accuracy of below 10mm. This allows the grower to weed the crop precisely, up to 15mm proximity from the plant.”
FarmDroid was initially designed to work with organic sugar beet, but the capabilities of the machine are advancing and finding solutions for growers producing a range of crops in the UK, including sugar beet, herbs, flowers and salads. Currently there are 16 FarmDroids in operation on UK farms.
Before it can work, the robot needs to know the corners of every field and the location of any obstacles to create a geofence to work within. Each FarmDroid is capable of working 6ha per day and, as it is designed to tackle weeds when they are small, the manufacturer recommends each machine has total responsibility for approximately 20ha.
“There is growing interest because the cost of chemicals required to establish and manage a crop through its life has increased substantially. Although the FarmDroid is a significant investment it eliminates any spend on herbicides, fuel and labour while also reducing the need for expensive tractors.
“The FarmDroid may not be suited for all farming and growing applications, but the development and specialised technology ensures it delivers good results to an increasing market,” said Richard. “We see it becoming a staple among UK horticultural growers in the coming years.”