Robotic technology is quietly transforming the world of agriculture. A report by IDTexchEx describes how this market will plausibly grow to become a US $45 billion industry by 2038. It also demonstrates how diverse this emerging industry is in terms of forms, functions and fortunes.
Will tractors evolve towards full unmanned autonomy?
Tractor guidance and autosteer are well-established technologies. In the short to medium terms, both will continue their growth thanks to improvements and cost reductions in RTK GPS technology. Unmanned autonomous tractors have also been technologically demonstrated, however, large-scale market introduction has been largely delayed – not by technical issues but by regulation, high sensor costs and the lack of farmers’ trust.
The rise of fleets of small agricultural robots
Autonomous mobile robots are causing a paradigm shift in the way we envisage commercial and industrial vehicles. In traditional thinking, bigger is often better. This is because bigger vehicles are faster and are thus more productive. The rise of autonomous mobility is, however, upending this long-established notion. Fleets of smaller robots will start entering the market within 10 years.
Implements will become increasingly intelligent
Implements predominantly perform a purely mechanical functional today. There are some notable exceptions, particularly in organic farming. Here, implements are equipped with simple row-following vision technology, enabling them to actively and precisely follow rows. This is however changing as robotic implements become highly intelligent. The intelligent implements are learning to distinguish between crops and weeds as the implement is pulled along the field, enabling them to take site-specific weeding action.
Robotics finally succeed in fresh fruit harvesting?
Despite non-fresh fruit harvesting being largely mechanized, fresh fruit picking has remained mostly out of the reach of machines or robots. A limited number of fresh strawberry harvesters are already being commercially trialed, and some are transitioning into commercial mode. Some versions require the farm layout to be changed and the strawberry to be trained to help the vision system identify a commercially-acceptable percentage of strawberries. Others are developing a more universal solution compatible with all varieties of strawberry farms.
Drones bring in increased data analytics into farming
Agriculture will be a major market for drones, reaching over $420m in 2028. Agriculture is emerging as one of the main addressable markets as the drone industry pivots away from consumer drones that have become heavily commoditized in recent years. The market will also change as it evolves: drones will take on more functionalities such as spraying and data analytic services that help farmers make data-driven decisions will grow in value.
Robotics in dairy farms is a multibillion dollar market already
Thousands of robotic milking parlours have already been installed worldwide, creating a $1.6bn industry. This industry will continue its grow and will reach more territories globally as productivity is established. Mobile robots are also already penetrating dairy farms, helping automate tasks such as feed pushing or manure cleaning. These mobile robots are more akin to automated guided vehicles following some type of fixed infrastructure.
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