Visions of robots helping to feed people in the developing world is becoming more of a possibility, thanks to a team of engineers at the Australian Centre for Field Robotics.
In developed countries like Australia, agricultural robots, or agribots are changing the way farmers use data in large-scale farming. Data farming refers to generating, storing and analysing large volumes of data which takes the guess-work out of critical farming decision-making including optimal sowing and harvesting times. Agribots can pick apples and strawberries, herd animals, monitor lettuce health and analyse mangos to predict perfect picking times.
Agricultural practices in developing countries however have a unique set of challenges with limited financial support and a steady decline in family farm labourers, as children move into the cities seeking more lucrative jobs.
Professor Salah Sukkarieh and his team, including Muhammad Esa Attia from the School of Electrical and Information Engineering, have been working with local famers in Indonesia to tackle these problems.
“Small to medium size farms in Indonesia, with a shrinking labour force are putting increasing pressure on family farming practices. To combat this we needed to design a more sustainable operations model, which is why the Di-Wheel agrirobot was created,” Attia said.
The team’s aim was to develop a cost effective robot that was easy to maintain and would assist farmers in gaining more insight into the state of their crops to maximise harvest yields.
The Di-Wheel robot consists of two powered wheel modules joined by an expandable central shaft. The track width can be adjusted to fit different crop widths. The flexible modular nature of the system allows it to be assembled in six minutes and easily transported.