The future of agricultural technology is here already, with an Agritechnica 2017 silver medal awarded to Fendt of Germany for its robot seeders which plant a crop in “swarms”.
Fendt are famous for their powerful tractors, but their green machines could yet be replaced by MARS, which stands for Mobile Agricultural Robot Swarms (which also have the famous Fendt green colour scheme).
After three years of development, this robot system for high-precision planting has been tested in the field.
The latest version will be unveiled to the public at Agritechnica 2017, November 12-18 next in Hanover, Germany.
For maize drilling, the swarm of small, auto-steered, electric units is filled with seed by an operator, who also monitors their operation, and hauls them to the field on a trailer.
A small field could be drilled by five units, 50 or more could be deployed to plant a large area.
Operating at very low noise levels, and at night without lights, these units are thus ideal for drilling fields 24 hours a day near villages and homes.
The pinpoint position and planting time of each seed is accurately recorded. This opens up potential for subsequent operations in the crop, such as precisely spraying or fertilising individual plants.
Weighing as little as 40kg each, they self-coordinate their work in the field, with reduced soil compaction, and none of the the hazards that big machines pose to humans.
The small robots need very little energy to move in the field, so are less costly, while causing no emissions and no pollution.
They could be fuelled from the public electricity network, a farmer’s biogas plant, solar farm, wind power, or fuel cells. The robots need around 70% less energy than conventional crop planting. Since neither diesel nor oil is required, there is no chance of polluting leakage.
The idea is that swarms of mobile, cloud-internet controlled field robots work together in a completely autonomous and efficient way and with high precision.
Task planning and live monitoring can be done from a tablet computer, and satellite-based navigation ensures accurate planting of the correct areas. The farmer only needs to do seed planning and transport of the robot fleet.
The MARS System is the first marketable application of swarm technology in agricultural engineering, and the Agritechnica silver medal award is a boost for innovators who favour use of swarms of many small machines over the ever bigger and more powerful individual machines, as the future trend in farm machinery manufacturing.
The Fendt MARS research project has been funded by the European Union.
Having received “promising” enquiries from Germany, Australia, the UK, Switzerland, Netherlands and Africa, Fendt anticipate some of their the first MARS system sales at Agritechnica next month, with the first step being business and location-specific consultations to see whether the MARS system is right for the interested customers.