AGRONOBOTS - Automating crop trials using Unmanned Ground & Air Vehicles

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Objectives of the service

Image credit: Vectorstock, Project : AGRONOBOTS

Modern agriculture is facing tremendous challenges in its sustainability, productivity, and quality for almost ten billion people by 2050.

To address these issues, we need to gain further knowledge of genetics and environment interactions (G×E), and apply that knowledge to facilitate breeding programs for cultivating new crop genotypes suitable for various production purposes and environments.

The service aims to provide new tools for the Field Based-High Throughput Phenotyping (FB-HTP) through specialised robots. Robotics opens up the potential for mass direct in-field phenotyping of crops under true farm conditions.

Agronobots will offer three different types of robots for the execution of trials, including support services for these robots and eventually the sale of data gathered during the development and proving phase. Data will be collected and delivered via crop specific channels incorporating field trials and grower demonstrations.

The aim for Agronobots is to become the first organisation to gain OR (Official recognition) from the UK’s Chemicals Regulation Directorate to use fully automated machine vision robotic systems for gathering and filing crop trials reports for pesticide and herbicide chemical product registrations. 

Image credit: LLEO Limited & Field Product Services, Project : AGRONOBOTS

Users and their needs

The crop trial market can be categorised into the following four segments, which will all benefit from the Agronobots hardware sales and support services. For each segment, three crop trials brands are foreseen, covering potatoes, broadacre (cereals, oilseeds, legumes), and vegetable crops;

  1. Ag Chem developers/manufacturers (Corteva, FMC, Syngenta, BASF, BCS, etc.)
  2. Plant science organisations (AHDB, ADAS, NIAB, eurofins, Rothamstead, etc.) 
  3. Ag Chem distributors (Agrii, Frontier, Hutchinsons, Agrovista, etc.)
  4. Plant Breeders (Agrico, Limagrain, KWS, RAGT Seeds, etc.)

The use of autonomous remote sensing and application of pesticides by rover would substantially reduce operator exposure and provide tangible increase in Health & Safety benefits to operators in terms of operator exposure and re-entry exposure when using experimental compounds, providing a major benefit to potential customers. Therefore uptake would be driven by both cost reduction and demonstration of duty of care to employees.

 

Service/ system concept

The AGRONOBOTS service is based on the architecture described in the picture.

Different blocks includes:

  • Ground based local wireless network connected to a gateway that has the ability to use local PSTN infrastructure, broadband Internet, mobile phone data networks and fixed two way satellite Internet.
  • Local RTK network broadcast using 433MHz and LoRa radios
  • Drones with NDVI sensors, that are capable of completing survey missions
  • Unmanned Ground Vehicle with crop measuring sensors
  • Unmanned Ground Vehicle with automated plant protection spray bar
  • Weather Station, measuring wind speed and direction, sun irradiance, rain fall and spore trap
  • Site security cameras with the ability to relay imagery and video for remote monitoring
  • Cloud storage, to host data sets collected by drones, UGV’s and weather stations.

Image credit: LLEO Limited, Project: AGRONOBOTS

Space Added Value

L1 RTK/Precise Point Positioning (PPP) GNSS will be used in Agronobots drones and rovers for real-time positioning data, using existing modular low-cost receiver systems that are already being used by LLEO Limited, using two of them (one fixed and one on the robot) connected by a LoRa radio link. By using a data stream from the base station over the LoRa radio link or via a mobile phone data network to connect with the network of GNSS reference stations (such as OS Net), the rover can output its position better than 10cm accuracy. The RTK solution is augmented intelligently with PPP for use of the system in GSM denied areas. The evaluation of Fixed Two Way Satellite Data Services is under assessment, to enable Internet access to a Local Wide Area Network when local telephone network access and mobile phone data coverage is unavailable, poor or intermittent.

Current Status

The nine month AGRONOBOTS Feasibility Study commenced on the 1st of May 2020 and the progress meeting has been performed on the 19 August 2020.

Due to agricultural growing constraints and COVID-19 restrictions preventing direct customer contact, we started by planting our Proof of Concept site to be able to invite potential customers to visit us later in the season for private viewings and discussions in order to understand their individual requirements.

Image credits : LLEO Limited, project AGRONOBOTS

 

End user engagements have taken place at our PoC site in Market Rasen during June, July & August with representatives from several companies and we are now planning to hold a virtual event later this year in co-operation with Barclays Bank who are opening their first Eagle Lab dedicated to Agritech companies later this month (September 2020).

Status Date

Updated: 04 September 2020 - Created: 04 September 2020