Electric tractors, agribots and regenerative agriculture

December 17, 2020 by  
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Electric tractors, agribots and regenerative agriculture Heather Clancy Thu, 12/17/2020 – 01:30 Without the benefit of their favorite search engine, I’m certain many readers would be hard-pressed to name the largest, pure-play agricultural equipment company in the world. But digging into innovations being advanced by that organization — AGCO, based in Duluth, Georgia — reveals much about the potential future of technology for cultivating regenerative and precision agriculture. With about $9 billion in annual revenue in 2019, AGCO is behind some of the best-known global brands in tractors, combine harvesters, balers and other farm equipment, including Massey-Ferguson, Fendt, Challenger and Valtra.  AGCO has made many, many acquisitions to amass this portfolio, including the buyout of Precision Planting from Monsanto (now Bayer) in 2017. With new CEO Eric Hansotia poised to step up Jan. 1 , AGCO is sowing the seeds for a global refresh of its mission — including electrified farm machinery, autonomous field robots that swarm through fields and smart tractor retrofits that provide farmers with insights into metrics such as the organic matter in their soil. AGCO is testing the battery-powered Fendt e100 Vario for a range of farming and municipal applications. “It has always been about the economic return for the farmer; now we’re trying to pull sustainability into that,” AGCO’s new (and first) director of global sustainability, Louisa Parker-Smith, told me when we chatted in early December. For perspective, the market for agricultural equipment was sized at $139 billion in 2018, and it’s expected to achieve a compound annual growth rate of 8.9 percent through 2025. Earlier this year, market research firm IDTechEx predicted $50 billion in sales of electric farm equipment during the next decade — some of these are updates to tractors and other big machinery but others are entirely new autonomous, robotic vehicles, such as agribots that can pick weeds or plant seeds. Parker-Smith, an eight-year AGCO veteran, said enabling sustainable farm production — using less energy and inputs — is a core tenet of future product design. Moving away from heavier equipment, for example, could help reduce soil compaction, allowing fields to absorb and sequester more atmospheric carbon dioxide. And, through its Precision Planting division, AGCO is developing more devices — many of which can be retrofitted to existing equipment from AGCO and competitors — that help farmers track organic matter or water metrics, among other data. “How do we allow a farmer to understand the potential of their field,” Parker-Smith said. One example of how the future looks on the ground is Xaver , a robotic approach to seed planting being developed and tested as part of the company’s Future Farm initiative . The robots, far smaller (maybe the size of a motorized tricycle) than a traditional piece of equipment, can be orchestrated via satellite positioning and a cloud-based software application. In one videos about the technology, AGCO estimates a “swarm” of six robots can cover roughly 7.5 acres in an hour. Parker-Smith notes that not only do the bots have a much lighter footprint, they use 90 percent less energy than a traditional tractor. AGCO is also electrifying some of its larger tractors, notably several from the Fendt division, although the weight of this equipment makes this a tough development challenge — it takes a lot of batteries to get to the horsepower required for certain farming tasks, such as plowing or tilling.  Parker-Smith’s new role is to help the entire company, from designers to dealers, rise to the occasion. “My focus is really to harness the energy of the entire organization. There’s a huge amount that is happening,” she said. “We don’t want just to be caught up with the risk management aspects of this. We are really looking at value creation from the customer perspective.”  Billed as the first fully electric driver-optional tractor, the Monarch will be available in fall 2021 at a pricetag starting at $50,000. Media Source Courtesy of Media Authorship Monarch Tractor Close Authorship AGCO isn’t the only ag equipment provider, of course, that envisions a hybrid, electric future in agriculture. U.K. startup Small Robot Company is developing farmbots that can weed, plant and feed crops; and Japanese company Kubota is pitching an autonomous, electric tractor with four treads instead of wheels that can traverse all sorts of terrain. Just last week, another upstart, Monarch Tractor, introduced a fully electric, “driver optional” smart tractor that carries a pricetag of $50,000. It’s supposed to deliver the first models in fall 2021 and claims “hundreds” of pre-orders. The mammoth John Deere, which had close to $40 billion in 2019 revenue across farming, construction and forestry equipment, is also developing electrified farming equipment, including an autonomous, electric tractor .  It takes a long time for aging farm equipment to be put out to pasture permanently, so convincing farming organizations to invest in these emerging technologies — regardless of the potential benefits they might have for regenerative ag — is definitely a long-term proposition. But given how much the big food companies are banking on convincing their supply chains to invest in regenerative agriculture, it would be a mistake to overlook the role that electric, autonomous vehicles can play in the field. Topics Innovation Food & Agriculture Electric Vehicles Agtech Featured Column Practical Magic Featured in featured block (1 article with image touted on the front page or elsewhere) Off Duration 0 Sponsored Article Off AGCO is testing electrified agricultural robots that can plant seeds, weed or handle other activities using less energy and causing less soil compaction. Courtesy of AGCO Close Authorship

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Robotically fabricated Wander Wood Pavilion pops up in just over three days

December 4, 2018 by  
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Traditional materials and futuristic technologies have come together in the Wander Wood Pavilion, a large-scale robotically fabricated structure completed by students at the University of British Columbia in Vancouver. Installed as a temporary addition to the campus grounds, the experimental pavilion was fabricated and assembled in just over three days using a state-of-the-art eight-axis industrial robot at the UBC Center for Advanced Wood Processing . Constructed with built-in seating, the sculptural installation was built mainly of wood, a renewable material selected for its sustainable features and ability to store carbon. Completed in October 2018, the Wander Wood Pavilion is the result of the Robot Made: Large-Scale Robotic Timber Fabrication in Architecture workshop led by David Correa of the University of Waterloo, Oliver David Krieg of LWPAC, and SALA professor AnnaLisa Meyboom. A large team of students, staff, faculty and external partners worked on the project as part of the university’s SEEDS Sustainability Program , an initiative that aims to advance campus sustainability through multidisciplinary projects. Forestry Industry Innovation provided the funding. “Starting with computational tools for parametric design, structural principles for wood construction, robotic CNC milling and digital workflow management, participants were provided with a unique insight into the new opportunities and challenges of advanced design to fabrication processes for timber structures,” explains the team in their project statement. “Parametric design and robotic fabrication are disruptive new technologies in architecture that allow us to build high performance structures of unprecedented formal complexity.” Related: Provocative timber horn explores the hypnotic pull of the unknown The sinuous and latticed form of the sculptural Wander Wood Pavilion not only helps activate the surrounding public area, but its curved shape also creates a cocoon-like environment for visitors using the built-in bench seating. The research workshop installation was installed next to the university fountain in the Martha Piper Plaza. + UBC Center for Advanced Wood Processing Images by David Correa

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Robotically fabricated Wander Wood Pavilion pops up in just over three days

Apple’s new recycling robot can disassemble 200 iPhones in a single hour

April 20, 2018 by  
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Just in time for Earth Day , Apple has unveiled a new recycling robot — and it can disassemble 200 iPhones in a single hour. Daisy can successfully extract parts from nine types of iPhones — and for every 100,000 devices it can salvage 1,900 kg of aluminum, 770 kg of cobalt, 710 kg of copper and 11 kg of rare earth elements. The robot represents a major step forward in Apple ’s mission to someday build its devices entirely from recycled materials. “We created Daisy to have a smaller footprint and the capability to disassemble multiple models of iPhones with higher variation compared to Liam ” — an earlier iteration of the company’s recycling robotics — Apple said in its 2018 Environmental Responsibility Report . Ultimately, Apple hopes to develop a closed-loop production system in which every reusable part of older devices is utilized in new ones. “To meet our goal, we must use 100 percent, responsibly sourced, recycled or renewable materials and ensure the equivalent amount is returned to market,” Apple said in its report. “Recognizing that this goal could take many years to reach, we remain committed to responsible sourcing of primary materials as we make the transition.” Though Apple has yet to release a timeline for its full transition, it has started active projects to recycle rare earth metals , paper products and more common metals from its supply chain. Related: Apple is now “globally powered by 100% renewable energy” Apple plans to add Daisy robots to several locations throughout the United States and Europe. Because the company is currently only able to incorporate used devices that it receives directly, Apple will emphasize its GiveBack program, in part by offering company credit for returned devices. Thanks to its recycling initiatives, Apple has already reduced its primary aluminum consumption by 23 to 25 percent since 2015. Despite the company’s initial success, some observers have advocated for more fundamental changes in Apple’s model. Greenpeace USA senior IT sector analyst Gary Cook said , “Rather than another recycling robot, what is most needed from Apple is an indication that the company is embracing one of the greatest opportunities to reduce its environmental impact: repairable and upgradeable product design.” Via Business Green Images via Apple

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These robots assembled an IKEA chair in 20 minutes without having a meltdown

April 19, 2018 by  
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Who hasn’t found themselves ready to throw a half-assembled IKEA chair across the room in a fit of frustration? If you are one of the many humans that still struggle to piece it all together, don’t despair: the robots are coming. In a study recently published in Science Robotics , scientists created two robots that are capable of performing the complex movements and possess the planning skills necessary to construct an IKEA chair. The robots are able to assemble a chair in a little over twenty minutes, with 11 minutes and 21 seconds dedicated to planning and 8 minutes and 55 seconds devoted to actual construction. While computers seem to have surpassed humans in certain cognitive tasks, such as playing chess and Go, until the development of this particular robot, even the most advanced robots struggled to emulate the manual dexterity possessed by humans to complete a complicated task like chair assembly. Additionally, the task requires integration of sight and precise calculation of force necessary to complete a particular step in the process. The team that designed the IKEA assembly robot from Nanyang Technological University in Singapore  utilized 3D cameras and force sensors , combined with full-range robotic arms, to equip their machine with the parts necessary to get the job done. Related: Scientists develop tiny robots that drill into cancer cells to kill them To start, the robots recorded images to properly identify each component of the chair. Next, the robots followed a complex algorithm to plan the movements needed to complete the task without bumping into anything. Finally, the robot arms assembled the parts, guided by sensors to determine the force necessary to secure each component. Although the robots were not fully autonomous, the researchers predict that with ever-advancing artificial intelligence , assembly robots may someday be able to piece together your furniture simply by flipping through the manual. Via Science Magazine Images via Science Magainze

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These robots assembled an IKEA chair in 20 minutes without having a meltdown

NASA has a plan to put robot bees on Mars

April 3, 2018 by  
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NASA has announced the funding of a new research effort that will explore the possibility of using robot bees to study the Martian surface. NASA has appropriately called the concept the Marsbee, and the team hopes to develop a model that is capable of navigating the thin atmosphere of Mars in swarms, gathering information with various sensors. “The objective of the proposed work is to increase the set of possible exploration and science missions on Mars by investigating the feasibility of flapping wing aerospace architectures in a Martian environment,” explains University of Alabama researcher Chang-kwon Kang in a statement . A research team at the University of Alabama will work in collaboration with an as-of-yet unannounced team in Japan to create what may be a more efficient means to explore Mars. While the Mars rover has proven to be a reliable exploration machine, it does suffer from slow speeds. A swarm of robotic bees would not have this problem as it scours the surface of the Red Planet. The body of the Marsbee would be similar to that of an actual bumblebee, while its larger wings will be about the size of a cicada. Researchers are currently exploring the most effective mode of flight, whether flapping through flapping, fixed-wing or rotor. The collaborating group of Japanese scientists has already created their own wing-flapping robot, the hummingbird micro-air vehicle (MAV). Related: Elon Musk says trips to Mars coming as soon as next year The Marsbees would be bound to a mobile “hive,” in the form of a traditional rover. The rover would serve as a home base at which the Marsbees would recharge and store data. The Marsbees would also be capable of sending information whilst in-flight through Wi-Fi technology. The Marsbee is still very early in development. NASA expects feasibility studies to last a decade before the project moves onto Phase II. The challenges that must be overcome before the Marsbee takes flight include designing a potentially autonomous navigation system, determining flight style, and inventing a means to keep dust out of the Marsbee. Via Phys.org Images via NASA

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Sony’s Aibo robo dog is back – and it’s cuter than ever

November 1, 2017 by  
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Remember Sony ‘s Aibo pet robot that debuted in 1999? Well, the company just launched a new-and-improved version in Japan today – and it uses Artificial Intelligence (AI) to develop a personality over time. Sony designed the robo dog to form “an emotional bond with members of the household while providing them with love, affection and the joy of nurturing and raising a companion.” The robot can learn the layout of your house, respond to voice commands, and melt your heart with nuanced expressions. Aibo was redesigned to be as lifelike as possible. OLED eyes signal changes in expression, fisheye cameras see and recognize individual faces, and actuators allow its body to move smoothly along 22 axes. Over time, the robot learns what behaviors make its owner happy. Similar to a Roomba, the robot can avoid obstacles and accesses the most direct route between locations. Inside, there is built-in LTE and WiFi , a quad-core CPU, and sensors, motors, and gyroscopes. It takes three hours to charge the Aibo robot, and its battery lasts two hours. Pre-orders for the new bot will begin tonight through Sony’s online store in Japan . The Aibo robot costs 179,000 yen (approximately $1,739 USD) and shipments are expected to begin on January 11, 2018. Related: VIDEO: Sony’s new LED light bulb has another very unusual capability The Aibo robot is connected to the cloud, so customers are encouraged to purchase an Aibo Basic Plan that backs up the robot’s unique identity and allows them to access their robot via WiFi or a mobile connection. The plan costs approximately $27 per month; alternatively, a 3-year subscription can be purchased for 90,000 yen ($790 USD). This subscription pairs with the My Aibo app, which manages settings, provides access to photos and allows you to play with a virtual version of the dog. Expect other versions of the Aibo robot in the future. Previously, Sony said that it is “steadily advancing multiple other initiatives in the AI and Robotics field.” + Sony Via Engadget Images via Sony

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This robotic "eel" hunts down the source of water pollution

July 27, 2017 by  
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Lake Geneva’s latest resident—all four feet of it—is neither man nor beast. Dubbed the Envirobot , the critter is a biomimetic robot designed by Swiss researchers to pinpoint the source of pollution in tainted waters. Bereft of fins or propellers, Envirobot slithers through water like an eel, leaving mud and aquatic life undisturbed. Just as stealthily, it uses sensors to gather data from various locations, which it transmits to a remote computer in near-instantaneous fashion. Even for an automaton, Envirobot is uncommonly clever. Besides its capacity to follow a preprogrammed path, it can also make its own decisions, independently sniffing out the origin of the contamination. Related: Fukushima robot finds lava-like deposits thought to be melted nuclear fuel “There are many advantages to using swimming robots,” said Auke Ijspeert, head of biorobotics at École Polytechnique Fédérale de Lausanne , in a statement . “They can take measurements and send us data in real-time—much faster than if we had measurement stations set up around the lake.” The serpentine design, which is supported by a series of small electric motors, has several advantages, as well. “Compared with conventional propeller-driven underwater robots, they are less likely to get stuck in algae or branches as they move around,” Ijspeert said. “What’s more, they produce less of a wake, so they don’t disperse pollutants as much.” Funded through a grant from Switzerland’s Nano-Tera program, Envirobot comprises several modules. Some of these contain conductivity and temperature sensors; others have miniaturized biological sensors that harbor bacteria, small crustacean, or fish cells that respond to water toxicity in different ways. The modular tack also makes it easy for engineers to change Envirobot’s composition or vary its length when the occasion calls for it. “The robot can be easily taken apart, transported to a remote water reservoir, for example, and put back together to begin testing,” said Behzad Bayat, another biorobotics scientist at EPFL. Already, Envirobot has taken several dips in Lake Geneva. It recently underwent a test that simulated water pollution by diffusing salt into a tiny area just off the shore, changing the water’s conductivity. The ersatz eel, researchers said, performed swimmingly. Although the ultimate goal is for Envirobot to pick up heavy metals and other pollutants, field tests for the “eel’s” biological components are trickier to carry out. “We obviously can’t contaminate a lake like we do the test water in our lab,” said Jan Roelof van der Meer, project coordinator and head of the department of fundamental microbiology at the University of Lausanne . “For now, we will continue using salt as the contaminant until the robot can easily find the source of the contamination. Then we will add biological sensors to the robot and carry out tests with toxic compounds.” + École Polytechnique Fédérale de Lausanne [Via Techcrunch ]

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This robotic "eel" hunts down the source of water pollution

Adorable AI robot stolls the beach scribbling poems in the sand

July 4, 2017 by  
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Forget the beach balls and margaritas – nothing says relaxing day at the beach like robot-created poetry. Designer Yuxi Liu has created Poet on the Shore – an adorable AI-powered robot that rolls around the beach scribbling lines of poetic prose in the sand. Liu created the battery-powered robot for her Design Informatics thesis at the University of Edinburgh. The adorable mod cube uses four wheels on continuous tracks to easily and autonomously cruise over the sand. Equipped with an anemometer (a device that measures wind speed) as an antenna, the robot picks up on various environmental factors that are recorded into the machine’s data stream. Related: Meet Gita, an intelligent autonomous cargo robot that can carry your stuff Using artificial intelligence technology, the robot is able to piece together this data to create varying verses of poetry, which are imprinted in its tracks as it cruises over the sand. The robot’s vocabulary is programmed with general grammar and spelling conventions, but is free to arrange the words in any form it pleases. According to Liu, the robot “enjoys watching the sea, listening to the sound of waves lapping on the beach, the murmurs of the winds, children’s conversing, and the incessant din of seabirds. Most of the time, it roams alone to listen and feel. Sometimes, it writes verses into the sand, and watches the waves wash them away.” The Poet on the Shore is part of a series Liu created called, “I, Machine”, which explores the “sense, sociability and morality of machines.” + Poet on the Shore Via PSFK

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Adorable AI robot stolls the beach scribbling poems in the sand

MIT unveils new solar 3D printer that can build houses on other planets

April 27, 2017 by  
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Some people dismissed 3D-printing in its early days as a novelty, but these days the technology is coming into its own and researchers at MIT have just taken it to the next level. They’ve created a robot that can print the entire basic structure of a building. This is particularly exciting because it could change the way we construct buildings, making the process faster and less costly. Using the new technology, a builder could customize a structure to fit the desires and site requirements of any space. Along with allowing for a wider variety of materials and a variation in material density, it could mean that someday we can construct buildings that we wouldn’t be able to today using traditional methods. Related: A 10K tiny house 3D-printed in 24 hours The technology includes a vehicle with one large robotic arm with a second smaller, more precise arm at the end. The truck also has a scoop, so that the truck can help prepare the building area and pick up building materials on its own, meaning you could create rammed-earth walls using on-site materials with the same system that you use to print the structure. MIT says the system can be powered electrically with solar panels, which means it could be used in remote areas or even on other planets. MIT showed the technology off by building a 12-foot high, 50-foot wide dome out of foam-insulation framework. The entire structure was completed in just 14 hours. “The construction industry is still mostly doing things the way it has for hundreds of years,” said engineering graduate Steven Keating, who worked on the project. This robot is intended to move things into the future. + MIT

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MIT unveils new solar 3D printer that can build houses on other planets

This bike lane in Korea is topped with 20 miles of solar panels

April 27, 2017 by  
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Is this the greenest road ever? A highway in Korea features a stunning solar-powered bike lane running right down the middle. The lane is offset, protected by barriers, and sheltered by solar panels. The lane runs from Daejeon to Sejong, a distance of around 20 miles (32 km), which is a few hours’ drive from the capital city Seoul. It’s a fantastic idea that could pave the way for similar commuting-style bike lanes in the future. + Janbaz Salehi

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This bike lane in Korea is topped with 20 miles of solar panels

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