Girish Chowdhary, an agricultural engineer at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, presented the AI-based project. It is a robot, named TerraSentia, which resembled an improved version of a lawn mower, with all-terrain wheels and a high-resolution camera on each side.
TerraSentia’s way of navigating is similar to the one used by self-driving cars. The robot sends out thousands of laser pulses in order to scan its environment
“It’s going to measure the height of each plant,” Dr. Chowdhary said.
Of course, it would do that and more. The robot is made to make the most detailed portrait possible of a field, beginning with the size and health of the plants to the number and quality of ears each corn plant will produce by the end of the season, so that agronomists can breed even better crops in the future.
“The idea is that robots can automate the phenotyping process and make these measurements more reliable,” Dr. Chowdhary said. Thanks to that, farmers will be able to optimize the yield of farms much more efficiently than ever before.
Agriculture has always endeavored to be as much automized as possible. Nowadays, current farm equipment is regularly outfitted with sensors that use machine learning and robotics to identify weeds and calculate the amount of herbicide that is needed to be sprayed or to detect and pick strawberries.
Sowing a niche
It is now a global thing that demands on agriculture are rising. According to the United Nations, the human population is expected to rise to 11.2 billion by 2100. To feed the whole population, with less land, fewer resources and climate change problems – farmers will have to develop their technological intelligence.
“There’s definitely a niche for this kind of robot,” said Neil Hausmann, who oversees research and development at Corteva. “It provides standardized, objective data that we use to make a lot of our decisions. We use it in breeding and product advancement, in deciding which product is the best, which ones to move forward and which ones will have the right characteristics for growers in different parts of the country.”
There is no need for farmers to have special expertise to operate the TerraSentia. It is almost fully autonomous. The TerraSentia has already been tested in a wide variety of fields, including corn, soybean, sorghum, cotton, wheat, tomatoes, strawberries, citrus crops, apple orchards, almond farms and vineyards.