Robots hardwired for contract spraying

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A pair of agricultural weed spraying robots

A pair of agricultural robots, or Swarmbots, working together to spray weeds on the Bate family’s property on 22 March at Gindie, Central Queensland.

PHOTO: SwarmFarm Robotics

Central Queensland grower Andrew Bate announced the imminent commercial release of an agricultural robot purpose-built for killing weeds, in a presentation at the Australian Summer Grains Conference.

The founding director of SwarmFarm Robotics, Mr Bate said the lightweight farm robots or ‘Swarmbots’ would be put to work on-farm using a range of weed-control technologies following their official launch in late March.

The release follows proof-of-concept trials in 2013 and 2014, and commercial trials in 2015 on the Bate family’s 4000-hectare mixed-farming operation, 20 kilometres south-west of Emerald.

These trials have seen the automated design evolve from a golf-buggy set-up to a self-propelled three-point linkage bar to the finished product: an articulated design loaded with computer hardware and an eight-metre spray boom that runs on four wheels.  

Mr Bate said commercialisation of the Swarmbot is an unprecedented development in Australian robotic research that could spur “the next revolution in agriculture”.

This is because the farm robots are expected to cost considerably less than conventional spray rigs. They also have the potential to reduce soil compaction, and decrease expenditure on fuel and chemical inputs.

“In the past 20 years of agricultural automation research there’s been more than 50 prototypes built, tens of millions of dollars spent and not one thing commercialised to benefit industry,” Mr Bate said.

He said the robots will initially provide contracting services on growers’ properties in the Central Queensland area, meaning they will operate under the supervision of SwarmFarm technicians who will set up and oversee the automated work with a focus on killing weeds.

“To start with we’ll take the robots to growers and operate them. This is early-stage technology and there will be days when the robots have downtime because of that. We don’t want to frustrate people and create a bad name for the technology.”

He said the Swarmbot weed-control services are likely to be price competitive with the cost of hiring a contractor to spray weeds using a 36m boom.

On-farm launch

Portrait of Andrew Bate

SwarmFarm Robotics founding director and chief executive officer Andrew Bate announced the commercialisation of an agricultural robot for spraying weeds at the Australian Summer Grains Conference.

PHOTO: Clarisa Collis

In the wake of the Australian Summer Grains Conference, the on-farm launch of the Swarmbot attracted about 380 people to the Bates’ property, ‘Bendee’, at Gindie on 22 March.

Three farm robots, each equipped with different types of weed-control technology, showed how they can work together as a coordinated team using two-way radio signalling.

“They also use a mesh network for communications, and each robot has a repeater that allows them to bounce messages off one another so they are not reliant on mobile network coverage.”

The weed-control options demonstrated by the robots were WEEDit® and WeedSeeker® optical sensor technologies and conventional spraying.

SwarmFarm Robotics, which was listed in the top 20 Australian start-up companies in 2015, has partnered with Adama, the Fitzroy Basin Association, Elders, Westpac, the Central Highlands Regional Council and Telstra to commercialise the Swarmbot.

A case study tracking the progress of this robotic technology on a Queensland grower’s property will feature in a future issue of Ground Cover.

More information:

Andrew Bate,
07 4984 4027,
0428 186 371,
andrew@swarmfarm.com

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