October 8, 2015

Intelligence for the fields: Bosch robot gets rid of weeds automatically and without herbicides

Agricultural robotics at Bosch – new helpers for plant breeding
At Bosch, one of the things the corporate sector for research and advance engineering
is working on is Bonirob, an agricultural robot. Its sensors recognize different plants.
One of the benefits of this is automatic weed control. In Renningen near Stuttgart,
Professor Amos Albert and his colleagues are developing this system.

(October 8, 2015)  New applications for sensor technology and algorithms

*  The challenge: increasing agricultural yield
*  Aim of Bosch research: automation and simplification of plant breeding and weed control
*  Bosch approach: development of an intelligent and flexible agricultural robot

Back in 1950, a farmer would have been able to grow around 2,500 kilograms of wheat per hectare of cropland. Today, that figure has more than tripled. Advances in plant breeding and technical innovations will continue to be necessary in order to feed the growing global population. This is where Bosch’s “Bonirob” agricultural robot can play a part. “We are leveraging our expertise in sensor technology, algorithms, and image recognition to make a contribution to improving quality of life, even in areas that are new for Bosch,” says Professor Amos Albert, a robotics expert and general manager of the Bosch start-up Deepfield Robotics. According to estimates, agricultural yields need to increase by three percent a year to keep up with population growth. Along with innovative agricultural technology and improved crop protection, more efficient plant breeding will play a particularly important role. In this area, Bonirob automates and speeds up analysis. The robot, which is approximately the size of a compact car, uses video- and lidar-based positioning as well as satellite navigation to find its way around the fields. It knows its position to the nearest centimeter. It also helps minimize the environmental impact of crop farming.

On the beet field of the future
The agricultural robot Bonirob gets rid of weeds automatically, using different sensors and actors.

Environment sensors and image processing in plant breeding

Today’s plant scientists are able to analyze the genetic makeup of new varieties in great detail – in the laboratory. However, it is only real field conditions that will show how well the plants actually grow: whether they are resistant to pests such as insects and viruses, and how much fertilizer and water they actually need. In painstaking manual work in the field, plant scientists examine and analyze thousands of plants, recording the size and color of their leaves, the size and shape of fruits, growth forms, insect infestation, and chlorophyll content. Based on these findings, they then decide which plant strains are worth pursuing further. The Bonirob is named after this plant appraisal process, which is known in German as Bonitur. Without this robot, it can take up to ten years before improved crops are ready for the market. The Bosch agricultural robot’s automatic image recognition can help here. “Algorithms analyze the photos taken by scanners and cameras. This automatic screening saves a lot of time and effort,” Albert says.

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