Robots Take Wheel as Autonomous Farm Machines Hit Field
Bloomberg) — Robots are taking over farms faster than anyone saw coming.
The first fully autonomous farm equipment is becoming commercially available, which means machines will be able to completely take over a multitude of tasks. Tractors will drive with no farmer in the cab, and specialized equipment will be able to spray, plant, plow and weed cropland. And it’s all happening well before many analysts had predicted thanks to small startups in Canada and Australia.
While industry leaders Deere & Co. and CNH Industrial NV haven’t said when they’ll release similar offerings, Saskatchewan’s Dot Technology Corp. has already sold some so-called power platforms for fully mechanized spring planting. In Australia, SwarmFarm Robotics is leasing weed-killing robots that can also do tasks like mow and spread. The companies say their machines are smaller and smarter than the gigantic machinery they aim to replace.
Sam Bradford, a farm manager at Arcturus Downs in Australia’s Queensland state, was an early adopter as part of a pilot program for SwarmFarm last year. He used four robots, each about the size of a truck, to kill weeds.
In years past, Bradford had used a 120-foot wide, 16-ton spraying machine that “looks like a massive praying mantis.” It would blanket the field in chemicals, he said.
But the robots were more precise. They distinguished the dull brown color of the farm’s paddock from green foliage, and targeted chemicals directly at the weeds. It’s a task the farm does two to three times a year over 20,000 acres. With the robots, Bradford said he can save 80% of his chemical costs.