Objectives of the service
This ESA activity involves running commercial trials of our scouting and weeding system for organic brassicas (initially broccoli) between 2019 and 2020.
Our service is immediately addressing the sector of organic vegetable farming, which has the following characteristics: (1) it is fragmented by crop and geography (2) labour cost and availability has made manual weeding and harvesting of all organic vegetables very difficult (3) most farms belong to large owner-operator farming companies while smaller farms are organised under large farming collectives.
The scouting data can inform crop yield measurement and forecasting models, based on ground-based tractor- and rover- mounted scouting data. The scouting data from this first service is also critical to launching higher-value services like selective harvesting.
Users and their needs
How do you walk 2,000 hectares of crop every week? You can’t – it’s too big and expensive to cover with people. This means farmers don’t get good data about what’s in their fields.
Instead, they rely on estimates. Not having accurate data means:
- overplanting crops – to meet stringent retailer contracts
- poor input choices – lack of precision e.g. fertilisers reduce margins
- poor harvesting choices – farmers harvest blind, out of spec crop is wasted
Accurate data is also the essential starting point for autonomous farming.
Service/ system concept
We use computer vision, AI and edge processing to track every single plant from planting to harvest. We know where each plant is to 1cm accuracy.
We then give farmers actionable information on crop size, health, forecast. This scouting data is integrated with other data the farmers may already have for an information solution.
Our scouting solution is both tractor and rover-based. Our rover system will also be able to pull a weeding implement which uses the scouting information “on the fly” to destroy weeds one by one.
We are commercialising 3 core technologies:
- Tractor and rover mountable scouting system
- Rover system for scouting and laser-based weeding
- Operating system for PFaaS (precision farming as a service)
Our technology stack includes ROS and the business information system Tableau.
Space Added Value
The project utilised RTK GPS to use as localisation data for the plant level data from the tractor-mounted and rover-mounted system. The localisation data is also used for fleet management.
The project uses technology derived from the ExoMars project to build the fourth generation of the rover system.
The final phase was to ruggedise our core technology stack - primarily the scouting system and rover. We have completed both of these tasks.
The second phase was to deploy this successfully on farms to show we are creating value for the farmers. We have built the scouting system and deployed it – for both the tractor and rover mounted versions. The rover is our Fourth Generation system.
We have demoed the system with horticulture farmers in the UK