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Agriculture: Cambridge Consultants launch autonomous robot to monitor farm crops

Technology research company Cambridge Consultants has launched a robot to monitor and manage farm crops.

Cambridge Consultants says the mechatronic farming machine, called “Mamut”, is an autonomous robot that explores crop fields, capturing data on health and yield at the level of individual plants and on a massive scale.

By automating data capture, Mamut “gives growers regular, precise and actionable information on their crops, enabling them to predict and optimize yields”, says the company. 

Agriculture is under pressure to increase efficiencies, producing greater yields with fewer inputs and less labor.

To meet these demands, growers need precise information on crop growth and health throughout the growing season.

Automation of the data collection process is essential to providing growers with information at scale.

Existing large-scale monitoring approaches use drones, which cannot capture information from beneath the crop canopy.

Attempts to use ground-based monitoring have been limited by the requirement for additional infrastructure, such as cabling or radio beacons.

Mamut is an AI-powered autonomous robotic platform. Equipped with an array of sensors, Mamut maps and navigates its surroundings without the need for GPS or fixed radio infrastructure.

As it travels the rows of a field, orchard or vineyard, cameras capture detailed crop data at the plant level, enabling accurate predictions of yield and crop health.

Mamut integrates stereo cameras, LiDAR, an inertial measurement unit, a compass, wheel odometers and an onboard AI system that fuses the multiple sensor data inputs.

This sophisticated blend of technologies enables Mamut to know where it is and how to navigate through a new environment, in real time.

Niall Mottram, head of agritech, Cambridge Consultants, says: “Mamut is a practical application of AI, meeting a real and pressing need, particularly for growers of specialty crops where failure carries a high cost.

“AI systems are already being used to understand crop conditions, yield predictions and to enable weed identification, but our autonomous robotic platform can collect valuable and granular data below the canopy, where drones cannot see.

“This data enables farmers to treat each plant in their vineyard, orchard or field individually, and on the scale of massive industrial farming, optimizing yields and producing more output with less input.”

Mamut’s capability to perform simultaneous localization and mapping, enabling the robot to react and learn from unstructured routes in real time, was developed in navigation trials through the twists and turns of a 12-acre maize maze at Skylark Garden Centre, and at Mackleapple’s orchard, both in Cambridgeshire, UK.