Robots help in high density farming and saving bees

IoT na sinecocultura
Sheila Zabeu -

April 05, 2023

A group of researchers from Waseda University, Japan, in collaboration with Sustainergy Company and Sony CSL have designed a new robot that can effectively assist in synecoculture. Synecoculture is a new farming method that involves growing mixed plant species in high density.

Because it involves complex operations to maintain several species with different growth periods and rates planted in the same area. Dense vegetation requires frequent maintenance to eliminate weeds need and also other resources to facilitate harvesting.

The new SynRobo can sow, prune and harvest plants in high-density cultivated areas. Its small and flexible structure will help develop large-scale synecoculture, taking an important step towards enabling sustainable agriculture and carbon neutrality, as well as contributing to biodiversity.

According to the researchers, most robots currently available can only automate one of three tasks – sowing, pruning and harvesting – in a simple farming environment. Moreover, current robots can make unnecessary contact with plants and damage them, affecting their growth and harvest. To tackle the challenging scenario of synecoculture, it was necessary to go further and come up with an innovative solution, extracting the best from the human work of farmers and conventional robots. The result was named SynRobo, “syn” conveying the meaning of “with” humans.

SynRobo’s design uses a four-wheeled mechanism to enable movement over uneven terrain and a robotic arm that expands and retracts to overcome obstacles. In addition, the system uses a 360° camera to recognise the surroundings and manoeuvre. A new manoeuvring system enables SynRobo to avoid obstacles with 50% better performance and reduce operation time by 49% compared to a simple controller. SynRobo also carries various farm tools for drilling and pruning and harvesting equipment.

The researchers also developed efficient sowing techniques. They coated seeds from different plants with soil to make balls of equal sizes. This made the shape and size consistent so that the robot could easily spread seeds from various plants.

Robotic technology to save bees

And who knew that robotic technologies could help create smarter hives and thus save bees?

According to researchers, a third of bee colonies are at risk of dying during the winter months, often because they lack the warmth needed to survive. A joint effort between the team at the Artificial Life Laboratory of the University of Graz in Austria and the École Polytechnique Fédérale de Lausanne (EPFL) in Switzerland has created a hive equipped with a technique to monitor it in winter and provide heat when needed.

In addition, this smart hive gathers behavioral and social information from the bee world that was previously inaccessible to researchers. This makes it possible to conduct biological studies that can provide important clues about the behavior of social insects during their hibernation phase.

The new smart hive is equipped with sensors and actuators, technologies derived from robotics. Sensors convert physical attributes into electrical signals, while actuators do the opposite, transforming electrical signals into movement or other physical action.

In the case of bees, the robotic device monitors the health of the insects 24 hours a day, seven days a week. If bees distressed are detected, they can be redirected to honey-rich areas, for example, or offered targeted heat supply. This is done without disturbing the bees in the hive. In the dead of winter, snow-covered hives can be monitored and even controlled remotely by mobile phone or computer. The robotic field in the honeycomb makes it possible to provide heat to the hive “remotely” in a targeted and precise way, thus guiding the bees in the honeycomb to seek locations with specific temperatures and survive. If there is a sudden drop in temperature, this is automatically detected by the sensors, and beekeepers are notified by text message to provide timely support.

This initiative is part of the Hiveopolis project, which aims to ensure the survival of the Western honeybee through technology at a time of global extinction risk for the species. The project is funded by the European Union with €7 million over the five-year period ending 31 March 2024.

The agricultural robot market was valued at $7.07 billion in 2022 and is expected to reach $24 billion by 2030, with a compound annual growth rate of 15.4% over the forecast period.