The popular conception of farming as low-tech is woefully out of date. Modern farmers are high-tech operators: They use GIS software to plan their fields, GPS to guide field operations, and auto-steer systems to make tractors follow that GPS guidance without human hands. Although farming has become mechanized, the evolution of agricultural techniques to include unmanned robots provides a unique opportunity. The agricultural sector can increase productivity and sustainability by using intelligent robotics to analyze current farming practices including, for instance, fertilization and seedling variety. This concept is preeminent in the world of shrinking farming circles and an ever-growing population.
Imagine a tractor that can travel, driverless, up and down the rows of trees in an orchard, ‘observing’ its surroundings and developing a detailed 3D map that shows the position and condition of every tree, every fruit and every inch of ground. Imagine it can identify any disease or deficiency in each tree, the ripeness of each fruit and the condition of the soil. Then imagine it can respond by spraying, watering or harvesting as required – all without the need for a human operator on board. This is the farm of the future, and it’s already being developed at the BioSense Institute in Novi Sad, Serbia.
BioSense develops ‘intelligent’ robotic devices for use in outdoor environments, which can autonomously sense, analyse and respond to their own surroundings. This is enabled by using thermal and multispectral imaging techniques and calculating vegetation indexes such as NDVI, LiDAR technology, machine learning algorithms, and various other sensors and actuators. Researchers at BioSense are working on projects aiming to automate many of the previously labour-intensive operations of farming, vastly improving efficiency, yield and worker safety.