Agriculture is one of the industries that is slowly but steadily incorporating robotics. In 2017, IDTechEx published research that determined that robots and drones in the agriculture industry represent a $3 billion market. The study further states that by 2020, agriculture robots will constitute a $6 billion market.
Current use of robots in the agriculture industry is mostly limited to the processing side of agriculture. Universal Robots, for instance, has supplied a considerable amount of collaborative robot arms to agriculture companies such as Cascina Italia which processes millions of eggs daily.
Farms, however, which are an integral part of the agriculture industry are yet to see a wide-scale adoption of robots for farming applications. Drones and autonomous vehicles have made their mark of course, but not collaborative robots.
To rectify this, one of the research trends that has seen forward progress is the use of swarm robotics in precision agriculture.
What Is Swarm Robotics?
Swarm robotics is a branch of robotics that is meant to allow many individual robots to work together to complete a particular task. In essence, swarm robotics attempts to replicate the working of bees.
In a bee colony, each bee performs a particular task towards the common goal. By virtue of the bees working together, they can accomplish more unlike what would have happened if each bee worked on its own.
The reasoning behind swarm robotics is that as these individual robots communicate and work together, they can then be deployed to solve complex tasks.
One of those complex tasks is precision agriculture.
Understanding Precision Agriculture
In the simplest of terms, precision agriculture is the use of any technology that is bound to make farming more accurate and controlled regarding growing crops or rearing livestock.
That means incorporating existing technology, emerging technology, and devices such as GPS, drones, automated hardware, control systems, sensors and robotics. The market for precision agriculture is so in demand that by 2025, it is expected to grow to $43.4 billion.
The reason precision agriculture is essential is that the agriculture industry is very labor intensive. That means any technology that can help alleviate this while increasing or stabilizing crop yield is always welcome.
How Will Swarm Robotics Apply to Precision Farming?
Many agricultural applications can incorporate swarm robotics, but we will look at two examples that enumerate how swarm robotics can revolutionize precision agriculture.
i. Application of Agrochemicals (Fertilizers and Pesticides) Only Where Needed
The current technology in existence cannot isolate the areas on a farm where agrochemicals are most needed and apply the agrochemicals to those specific regions.
Instead, whole fields are uniformly sprayed every day if a farmer is to avoid pests encroaching onto his/her crop. Swarm robotics can be used to spray agrochemicals only where they are needed and consequently provide a plant of a higher quality.
The challenge, of course, is that a farmer must have a system or technology to monitor crop health and chemical supply at the individual plant level. That would mean combining swarm robotics, sensor technology, machine vision and data analytics. Such a technology is still on the research level, but when researchers finally find a solution, then it has the potential to change the agriculture industry.
ii. Mapping Weed Infested Areas On a Farm
Multiple robots that incorporate swarm technology, big data, GPS and machine vision can be deployed all over the farm to map weed infested areas. Additionally, similar to how bees work whenever they locate a particularly productive plant, these robots can attract each other when there is a particular region on the farm where weeds are more expansive.
After locating the area, they then send this information to the farmer who will then take the necessary action.
Use of swarm robotics for precision agriculture will not only make farming easier and more productive; it will also inject speed into the farming process. That is good news for both the farmer and the consumer.