Oct 23, 2022
Robotics Plus launches labor-saving autonomous vehicle

FRESNO, California – Robotics Plus, a New Zealand-based agritech company, launched its autonomous multi-use, modular vehicle platform for agriculture designed to carry out a variety of orchard and vineyard machine tasks to alleviate ongoing labor shortages.

The multi-purpose Unmanned Ground Vehicle (UGV) can be supervised in a fleet of vehicles by a single human operator. The vehicle uses a combination of vision systems and other technologies to sense the environment, allowing it to optimize tasks and guide intelligent and targeted application of inputs such as sprays. Growers will be able to rotate multiple tools on the highly adaptable and configurable agriculture platform, depending on the day’s work – for jobs such as spraying, weed control, mulching, mowing and crop analysis.

Steve Saunders

Robotics Plus, a specialist in the design and build of robotics, artificial intelligence and autonomous machines, unveiled its demonstration vehicle at FIRA USA 2022, an Oct. 18-20 Fresno, California-based event dedicated to autonomous agriculture and agricultural robotics solutions for the North American market.

Steve Saunders, co-founder and CEO of Robotics Plus, said the company worked alongside growers, researchers and best-in-class technology suppliers to deliver the unique modular architecture for its multi-purpose UGV, which can operate in a range of environments.

“We’ve created a flexible agricultural platform with the power to adapt to different crop types with tools for various applications, providing year-round automation benefits and maximizing machine utilization,” Saunders said in a news release.

“To adapt and thrive in a changing world and create a sustainable and competitive future in the agricultural and specialty tree crop sector – growers and orchardists need automation that solves real-world problems, reduces reliance on increasingly costly and hard-to-find machine operators and provides data-driven insights for informed decision-making.”

For automation to be adopted, it must also provide a good return on investment.

“Our multi-purpose vehicle replaces tractors and other tools,” Saunders said in the release. “But it does much more than just replace labor – it’s loaded with intelligence to improve efficiencies.”

The first application for the technology is intelligent spraying. The system varies the flow rate to ensure spray efficacy while reducing inputs. Spray rates and airspeed is controlled in zones and responds as the sprayer moves along orchard or vineyard rows.

The highly maneuverable UGV has a small footprint and unique steering configuration, incorporating electric steering and independent motors, which increases productivity by allowing significantly more ground to be covered than machines which turn on every second row or greater, depending on row configuration. The UGV can be deployed in a range of applications in various crop types with a minimum row spacing of 1.8 meters (6 feet).

Alistair Scarfe, co-founder and CTO of Robotics Plus, said its hybrid electric diesel UGV delivers outstanding performance in the field.

“Electric drive motors give superior torque and control, whilst a Tier 4 diesel generator means the vehicle can operate for extended periods,” Scarfe said in the release. “Fuel consumption is minimized by electrically driving all systems, including tools. Regenerative braking and high-capacity batteries also extend efficiency and range.

The vehicle’s lightweight design and intelligent all-wheel-drive system, with independent wheel motors to ensure grip and control, significantly reduces ground compaction, according to the release.

The vehicle has been designed from the ground up to be modular and easy to service. With no hydraulic, gearbox or differential fluids to be managed, operators can easily keep their vehicles running if a part fails by simply swapping out modules when needed. All of this is designed to reduce downtime and complexity for growers.

Robotics Plus has partnered with suppliers Yamaha Motor Co., Autonomous Solutions Inc. and Croplands, to significantly increase the support for the product in a demanding environment such as agriculture.

“We’ve benefited from our partner’s deep knowledge and access to high-quality technology components,” Saunders said in the release. “In addition, growers can deploy Quantum sprayers with configurations adaptable to various crop types, growing formats and heights.”

Robotics Plus has developed multiple autonomous systems for use in agriculture and automation for intelligent fruit-packing to address significant industry issues, including global labor shortages, rising costs and yield security.

Robotics Plus’ fast-growing team developed the modular platform UGV at its Tauranga base, with extensive testing in New Zealand and the U.S. in various environments and applications. Robotics Plus investors include Yamaha Motor Co. and New Zealand’s ACC Impact Fund.

For more information, see https://www.roboticsplus.co.nz/

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