Created by the University of Sydney, the Ladybird has granted it’s chief designer Professor Salah Sukkarieh the “Researcher of the Year” award by the Australian Vegetable Industry. According to Professor Sukkarieh, “Ladybird focuses on broad acre agriculture and is solar-electric powered. It has an array of sensors for detecting vegetable growth and pest species, either plant or animal. She also has a robotic arm for the purposes of removing weeds as well as the potential for autonomous harvesting.”
[Image Source: University of Sydney]
The new laser-guided and self-driving robot was specifically designed to collect data about pests, crop conditions and plant disease, which it automatically interprets and reports to the farmer. Ladybird was successfully tested in a farm in Cowra, where it was functional for three consecutive days after being charged and sent out to operate on onion, beetroot and spinach farms. The large solar panel array that powers the system gives it the advantage of operating for longer periods of time than any other robot powered by batteries or fuel.
“The robot was able to drive fully autonomously up and down rows and from one row to the next, while gathering sensor data. Sensors include lasers, cameras and hyper spectral cameras,” says Professor Sukkarieh. “Part of our research program is to find new ways to provide valuable information to growers about the state of their paddocks. ”
According to the farm owner, Ed Fagan, where Ladybird did its trial run, “A lot of the time in horticulture, if you’re short of an element in the plant, by the time you see a symptom it’s too late. [The Ladybird] will be able to pick up a nutrient deficiency before we see any symptoms. Secondly, you can use it at night at 2 o’clock in the morning and go out and do an insect survey, so things like cutworm popping out at night time, slugs, worms, things like that.”
There is also a robotic arm that can be used to collect weeds on its travels and future improvements have been planned to allow the arm to perform spot testing and spot sampling. There’s even discussions of automated harvesting.
Automation can greatly increase the efficiency and productivity by replacing the manual tasks of farming executed by specially designed agricultural robotic devices. Although it seems incredibly auspicious, the price of this new technology would have to be much more affordable to begin to compete with human labor.