TechTour: Drones and robots working together to target weeds


It sounds like a futuristic farming scene, but researchers in central Europe are working on developing an autonomous farming system where drones and robots work together to control weeds, starting in sugar beets and sunflowers.

Seven partners across four European countries are involved in the Flourish Project, an effort to create an autonomous, robotic system that sees collaboration between unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs) and multi-purpose unmanned ground vehicles (UGVs).

The system utilizes UAV surveillance capabilities to generate a map of the field, capture RGB and NIR image data, and identify areas with a high probability of pest concerns, like weeds. Once the UAV has completed its task, or detects its battery status as low, it docks on a UGV, where it can then transfer its data.

The UGV prototype, called BoniRob (made by Bosch and introduced in the following video), is the “platform vehicle” for its flying counterpart. It utilizes the data delivered from the UAV to determine the best route to take, and changes its driving speed dependant on identified hot spots. In the case of weed presence, the robot can choose between multiple treatment options, including mechanical control (via stamping, drilling or destroying with a high pressure water jet) or selective chemical inter- or intra-row weed treatments.

“We want to find new algorithms so the drone can investigate the field based on data quality, and not just simply monitoring, and then validating if the risk information is valid and which kind of weed species are at a certain space in the field,” explains Frank Liebisch, a university researcher at ETH Zurich in Switzerland, in this video, filmed at Agritechnica in Hanover, Germany.

The hope is the collaboration between UAV and UGV will enable farm managers to increase yields while lowering pesticide use. The consortium also expects the system’s use will contribute to “more efficient use of human resources in crop development” and lower farm emissions.

The Flourish Project is a three-year project funded by the EU’s Horizon 2020 Programme and the Swiss government. It is funded under Horizon 2020 until the end of August.

Related: The race to bring robots to the field is on

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