Attended by 17 teams from Denmark, Finland, Germany, the Netherlands, Poland, Slovenia and the UK, Steven Vale reports on the 14th edition of the International Field Robot Event.
BullsEye, Agronaut, the Phoenix and Soapbox were just a few of the names of the robots brought to the popular International Field Robot Event (FRE), which took place at the German Agricultural Society (DLG)-organised Field Days.
Each robot was required to complete different tasks on each of the three days of the show. On the first, the autonomous vehicles were required to navigate between maize crop rows, and turn unassisted into the next row at the headland. The second day was arguably the most challenging as each team’s robot had to complete a circuit with a mini-sprayer and drill, while the final day was reserved for a bit of fun and a freestyle competition.
Designed by students at many of Europe’s leading technical colleges and universities, most of the robotic solutions are designed for the complicated task of detecting and spot spraying crop weeds, while some feel there are applications for robots to tackle much simpler tasks.
Believed to be one of the first commercially-available robots, French-firm Naïo Technologies is seeking an agent to sell the 180kg Oz.
As well as cultivating, the vehicle can also carry a 100kg payload and is claimed to be powerful enough to tow a trailer weighing 350kg.
Designed to mechanically-hoe between crop rows (minimum spacing of 60cm is advised for the 48cm wide robot), the French company is currently working on a hoe for weeds within the crop row.
Most users initially opt to lease an Oz for £500/month (€650/month), but a few others have gone on to buy it outright, no doubt stimulated by an EU-subsidy on the purchase price of £15,300-£19,180 (€20,000-€25,000).
The company is currently developing a larger version, which we understand will be able to straddle vegetable crops grown in beds.
The 500kg heavy Phoenix was developed by students at Hohenheim University. The in-house designed rubber tracks are designed to allow the vehicle to keep working in sticky conditions.
Its track width of 1.5m allows the vehicle to work in crops on both 50 and 75cm row spacing.
Students have developed a two-row cultivator for the Phoenix, but the version on show combines laser and digital camera technology to scan the soil, and the machine can also map and then spot spray crop weeds.
The only Finnish team at the event, and the result of a year’s combined efforts by students at two Helsinki universities, a big feature of the Argonaut is the independent wheel suspension system, which is a lot like that used in modern tractors.
The three batteries provide enough electricity for about two hours when working with the drill.
Developed by students at the Dutch Wageningen University, and financed by Agrifac and co-sponsors Kverneland and Steketee, the BullsEye navigates using a laser sensor.
Its two batteries provide about 90 minutes of continuous use, and the robot’s 30kg weight does not include the two attachments made to fit to the rear; a trailed, 50cm-wide drill, and a student-built three-nozzle sprayer.
Developed by students at the Karlsruher technology centre, the Kamaro features a highly-sophisticated electronics system, with a built-in PC and micro-controller.
Each axle is driven by its own electric motor, and there is also an electric motor to raise and lower the laser scanner, and another one to tilt it. The sprayer is also powered by an electric motor.
It took German students about a month to make the Soapbox. Designed around a wooden frame, a major advantage is its lightweight of just 20kg.
The Soapbox is one of just a few robots with four wheel steer. Guided by a pair of laser scanners, the total available power is 150W.
The overall winner of the competition was the Great Cornholio (the Normal One).
Developed by German students at the University of Applied Sciences in Osnabruck, power comes from a pair of 12V/7.2Ah batteries, with a total power of 300W.
The Helios is the result of work by students at the German Braunschweig technical university.
Weighing 20kg, the vehicle provides permanent four wheel drive and is fitted with two digital cameras, a gyroscope and a pair of laser scanners.
Flying the flag for Britain was Harper Adams University with its robot, Eric.
Winning overall second prize in the competition, the nimble robot is 70cm-long resulting in a turning radius of just 90cm.
The Innok TX was the only six-wheeled robot brought to FRE 2016.
Featuring all-wheel drive and a total installed power of 2000W, the lightweight 16kg vehicle was developed by students at the German Heilbronn University.