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Revolutionizing Agriculture: The Role of Robotics in Boosting Productivity and Sustainability

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Agricultural Robots

The agricultural industry is always looking for ways to improve efficiency, increase output, and reduce waste. One of the ways to do this is through robots.

Robotics is actually becoming an integral part of farming and food production processes. The objective of robotics in agriculture is to help the sector improve productivity and environmental sustainability.

Robotics in the Agriculture Industry 

Traditional farming without robotics is more time-consuming and requires significant human resources for handling the various agriculture processes. Additionally, it involves a lack of accurate information on weather, soil conditions, and the use of fertilizers. Given that most agricultural activities at present are traditionally practiced, it often results in non-profitable and non-economic farming.

As a result, advanced AI-based systems such as sensor technology, IoT, data management technology, intelligent decision-making algorithms, robotics, drones, and advanced mechanisms are replacing the traditional farming system.

These systems make the agriculture process effortless, time-efficient, cost-effective, highly productive, and sustainable.

This agricultural revolution is driven by the need for significantly increased production yields. With the UN estimating the world population to rise from 8 billion to 9.7 billion in 2050, farmers will face serious pressure to keep up with this demand.

This is why the agriculture robots market is estimated to grow from $13.5 billion in 2023 to over $40 billion by 2028, according to MarketsandMarkets. Also, North America is currently dominating major market share in the agriculture robots industry thanks to the widespread adoption of automation across industries such as e-commerce, food & beverage, automotive, and pharmaceuticals. 

Application of Robotics in Agriculture Landscape

The agriculture robots market is a dynamic landscape filled with immense potential. So, let's look at the wide range of applications that robots have within the agricultural industry.

Starting with much simpler tasks, driverless tractors, and robots are slowly replacing driver-led machinery for sowing seeds. Here, machine vision and movement sensors work together to avoid obstacles while navigating the field. For instance, autonomous tractors use GPS-based self-driving technology with a plan for integrating machine learning to help the tractors identify new obstacles or animals in their paths.

A primary use of robots on farms can be seen in picking and packing fruits and vegetables. Due to the accuracy and speed that robots can achieve to improve the size of yields and reduce waste, harvesting and picking is one of the most popular robotic applications.

Even repetitive tasks involved with livestock farming, such as milking cows, spreading feed, and monitoring land for grazing, can be automated. And by automating slow, repetitive, and dull tasks for farmers, agricultural robots allow farmers to focus more on improving overall production yields. 

In addition, robots are also being used to perform complex tasks such as monitoring crops and measuring PH levels in the soil. Robots can also be programmed to perform crop maintenance by pruning plants, weeding land, applying insecticides, and providing irrigation.

To combat weeds, companies use computer vision and a variety of mechanical tools that allow robots to pluck out weeds instead of using chemicals. Similarly, smart sprayers are paired with computer vision cameras to identify weeds for targeted herbicide applications. 

Innovation in Agricultural Robotics

Innovation is essential in any sector, and it is now more relevant in agriculture than ever before, as embracing new technologies like robotics will be a key factor in changing the face of agriculture. After all, with the world population expanding at a breathtaking pace, new innovations in agriculture have become necessary.

While we have come a long way since the first industrial robots were invented in the 1950s, it has been over the last few years that innovation in robotics applications in agriculture has advanced considerably. So, let's take a look at some of the important innovations in agricultural robotics.

Farm Automation

Farm automation reduces human input and error by combining:

  • Agricultural machinery
  • Computer systems
  • Electronics
  • Chemical sensors
  • Data management 

By using automated harvesters and autonomous tractors, farmers are making efficient use of resources and producing higher yields.

Automation is already a major part of the farming process, but as it becomes even more important in the coming years, the increased level of automation will allow farmers to focus more on creative, complex, and other critical aspects of their business. Also, thanks to automation, most farmers now get to spend more time with their families than before.

GIS in Agriculture

Geographic Information systems in agriculture rely on technology such as satellites to understand the types and position of crops, fertilization level, soil status, and related information. By leveraging the data generated from GIS remote sensing devices and software, farmers can then make informed decisions.

Besides using this technology to determine the best location for crop planting in the field and improving soil nutrition, GIS software can also help with livestock health, fertility, and nutrition by monitoring the movement of animals.

Vertical Farming

A new popular way of farming is vertical farming or indoor farming, where plants are cultivated in a fully regulated environment. Here, all the plant's needs are met by artificially providing them with water, light, and nutrients using hydroponic, aquaponic, and aeroponic techniques.

The Controlled Environment Agriculture (CEA) greatly reduces water consumption, protects plants from adverse weather conditions, and maximizes the use of space for cultivation to provide reliable and higher yield while making efficient use of resources and reducing labor costs by making use of robots for harvesting and planting.

Click here to learn more about vertical farming.

Drones

Unmanned Aerial Vehicles or drones are increasingly becoming useful to monitor crops. By using advanced sensors, drones can help monitor the growth of plants, detect disease stress, monitor field temperature, and spray pesticides, water, or fertilizers at desired locations on the field. These devices can also be used for imaging and land fertility, as well as to monitor soil quality and ensure that crops aren't affected by environmental factors such as drought or flood.

Meanwhile, in livestock management, drones are used to observe grasslands and track animal movements on big areas of land. Some drones are equipped with thermal imaging cameras to detect sick animals with high body temperatures. This way, drones help farmers acquire comprehensive data to make timely decisions.

Artificial Pollinators

Pollination, which is a process to enable fertilization and seed production, is vital for the survival of many crops. However, pollination is facing many challenges, such as habitat loss, pesticide use, and declining bee populations. 

As a result, increasing innovation is happening, such as robotic insects that mimic the behavior and appearance of natural pollinators. Here, tiny machines are equipped with sensors, cameras, artificial intelligence (AI), and micro-actuators that allow them to fly, navigate, and pollinate flowers autonomously. 

Compared to manual pollination, AI robotic insects are not only more precise, flexible, scalable, and cost-effective but can also work in any weather condition and in any environment. These pollinators can also be programmed to target specific crops or plants, avoiding unwanted cross-pollination or contamination.

By reducing the pressure on natural pollinators, AI robotic insects help restore ecosystems and biodiversity while creating new opportunities for education, research, and innovation in the fields of robotics and biotechnology.

Laser Scarecrows

In the past, farmers relied on traditional scarecrows to ward off pesky birds or rodents that can be a menace to growing crops in an open field. But today, farmers are turning to high-tech devices with motion sensors to keep birds from pillaging crops. 

A researcher from the University of Rhode Island helped design a laser scarecrow, which projects green laser light, which birds are sensitive to. Invisible to humans in sunlight, it can shoot a laser beam 600 feet across a field to scare birds. The laser scarecrow is kept inside a plastic bucket to protect it from the elements and is attached to an adjustable pole.

Livestock Farming Technology

Emerging livestock technologies are enabling farmers to streamline farm management, improve animal care, and boost productivity. For instance, by employing robotics, big data, and AI, technology companies are automating tasks like dairy installations to milk cows without human intervention, feeder systems to provide animals with feeding mixtures tailored to their specific needs and in appropriate amounts, and cleaning systems to remove waste and create cleaner and disease-free environments.

In the dairy industry, companies are developing sensors to monitor real-time milk production and quality, health, and pregnancy hormones. Reportedly, 12% of dairy farms use robots, which is expected to grow to 20% in the next five years. Meanwhile, virtual fences help farms move animals wearing a sensor remotely. 

Companies

With so much innovation happening in the agriculture robots industry, let's now take a look at some of the prominent and key players:

1. FarmWise

A leading innovator in the field of agricultural technology and robotics, FarmWise has raised $73.9 mln in 9 funding rounds, as per CB Insights. The company uses a combination of AI, computer vision, and robotics to build its products that are positioned toward pulling out weeds without using chemicals and data-gathering operations on vegetable farms. 

Automated Weeding with Titan

Recently, the company presented its new weeding implement, Vulcan, at the World Ag Expo 2023, which uses computer vision and deep learning models to remove weeds with high precision. 

2. Deere & Company

This publicly traded company is known for its traditional agricultural machinery and is deploying technologies such as AI, IoT, robots, machine learning, big data, etc., to make data-driven decisions. Trading at $382.20, John Deere's stocks are down 10.86% year-to-date (YTD). 

finviz dynamic chart for  DE

The company has a market cap of 110.07 bln and is paying a dividend yield of 1.41% while having a P/E (TTM) ratio of 11.30 and ROE (TTM) of 47.73%. For the third quarter ended July 30, 2023, John Deere reported net income of $2.978 billion.

3. Carbon Robotics

The leading innovator in the field of agricultural robotics and Carbon Robotics uses AI, computer vision, robotics, and lasers to enable farmers to streamline their weed control process. The company offers an autonomous laser weeder for commercial farming that uses deep learning to identify and remove unwanted plants. 

LaserWeeding Purslane

It's also on track to deliver LaserWeeder to 17 U.S. states and three Canadian provinces. In April this year, Carbon Robotics raised $30 mln, bringing its total raise so far to $67 mln, to accelerate its manufacturing and international expansion.

4. Trimble

The stocks of Trimble (TRMB), a company that builds robotic and autonomous technologies for farm equipment, is down 16.12% this year as it trades at $42.41 with a P/E (TTM) of 31.61 and ROE (TTM) of 8.16%. For 3Q23, the company reported revenue of $957.3 mln, up 8.2% year-over-year, and non-GAAP earnings of 68 cents per share. 

finviz dynamic chart for  GE

At the end of the quarter, Trumble had $216.8 mln in cash and cash equivalents, and its total debt was $3.05 billion. As the race among farm-equipment companies to automate agriculture accelerates, AGCO Corp (AGCO.N) announced recently that it would acquire an 85% stake in Trimble's agribusiness for $2 billion.

5. AgEagle Aerial Systems Inc. 

This company, with an estimated 150 employees, offers drone-based data solutions to enable farmers to improve crop management. Besides agriculture, the company offers its full-stack drone solutions in the energy, construction, and government verticals. 

finviz dynamic chart for  UAVS

In Sept., AgEagle launched its fixed-wing unmanned aerial system eBee VISION drone. With a market cap of $15.83 mln, AgEagle's (UAVS) shares are trading at $0.13 while having a P/E (TTM) ratio of -0.22. In Aug., the company reported a notable decline in its Q2 revenue results at $3.28 mln after seeing its revenue grow by 95.62% last year.

Pros and Cons of Agricultural Robotics

Automating agricultural systems comes with a number of benefits:

  • Unlike humans, robots can work quicker and for longer periods without getting bored or tired, needing breaks, reduction in productivity, or risk of injury.
  • By reducing waste and the cost of labor and farm operation, agricultural robotics makes for a cost-effective method. 
  • Given that robots are not susceptible to human error, they can perform both repetitive jobs and complex tasks accurately and precisely throughout the entire process.
  • With robots, you don't have to worry about labor shortages for seasonal tasks or crops being left in the ground and not being palletized in time for distribution.
  • Thanks to their advanced perception abilities, autonomous decision-making abilities, and precise execution abilities, robots can achieve accurate and efficient production goals even under complex, harsh, and dangerous environments. 

However, automating agricultural systems is not without drawbacks:

  • The biggest concern with robots is that they are expensive. While the cost can be offset by enhanced efficiency and yield, it is still a huge initial expense, although as technology advances, costs will go lower.
  • Robots also require electricity and regular maintenance to keep them running, which further adds to the cost of using them.
  • Agricultural robots require complex algorithms to make them work for any task, which also means farmers need training before use.

Conclusion

So, as we saw, robots have been increasingly capturing the attention of both research and industry, which has resulted in the rapid evolution of agricultural robots. By integrating perception, decision-making, control, and execution techniques, significant refinements have also been achieved.

This makes sense against the backdrop of a growing population and increasing shortages of land and water, where agriculture robots are playing a unique and integral role by offering a smarter, safer, and more productive way of farming!

Gaurav started trading cryptocurrencies in 2017 and has fallen in love with the crypto space ever since. His interest in everything crypto turned him into a writer specializing in cryptocurrencies and blockchain. Soon he found himself working with crypto companies and media outlets. He is also a big-time Batman fan.