The University of Sydney in Australia has developed the world's first robotic farmer. Called Ladybird, the robot has completed a successful first trial on a farm in South Wales where it grew beetroots, onions and spinach rows. The entire process took a year and cost about $1 million.
"We've given it that name because it looks a little bit like one [a ladybird beetle], it has red covers with black spots from the solar panels," said Dr. James Underwood, a senior research fellow at the University of Sydney's Australia Centre for Field Robotics. He developed the sensory equipment on the robot. "It's a solar powered, electric driven robot, with a variety of different sensors that we think are going to be useful for precision agriculture into the future."
Ladybird was designed specifically for the vegetable industry and can help farmers collect intelligence and nutritional information on their crops, as well as with autonomous farm surveillance, mapping and the detection of pests. Developers hope the robot will eventually be able to aid in autonomous weeding and harvesting as well.
"The first phase for us out here near Cowra has been to test the ability of the robot to drive itself around the farm," said Underwood. "It's a fully autonomous vehicle, it's capable of driving up and down the rows of the farm with very good precision, it went really well and basically worked straight out of the box."
Underwood and his team are still working on what kind of information they can gather from the varying sensors, such as hyper-spectral sensors and laser range finders. This information will work alongside a 3D detailed picture and map of the farm.
"It's our hope that with that data, and some algorithms that we design back in the lab, we can process that information to produce useful data for farmers to manage their crop."