Just recently spun-off from the University of Applied Sciences Aachen, German start-up AI.Land was created to commercialise the ETAROB field robot. Although still a research project, once commercialised, ETAROB is supposed to outperform all other systems currently out there.
ETAROB is characterised as a tool carrier with a focus on agricultural tooling and, for starters, spot spraying, selective fertilisation or irrigation and selective electro-physical weeding, and in a later stage, the harvesting of (iceberg) lettuce. The concept itself is based on almost 10 years of research in robotics at the MASCOR institute for mobile autonomous systems and cognitive robotics.
Josef Franko, co-inventor from AI.Land: “I strongly believe, that multi-purpose machinery is the only way to be economically efficient. Higher level software and algorithms enable ETAROB to develop into an intelligent system to exceed today’s field robot capabilities in situations of uncertainty.
We are combining the different strengths of multimodal sensors for mobile navigation, safety, as well as plant detection.”
Where many agricultural and outdoor robots and autonomous vehicles rely on RTK-gps to navigate because of its availability and robustness, robot ETAROB does not. AI.Land has chosen to use sensor fusion algorithms to enrich the position information with inertia measurement (IMU), a compass, odometry (i.e. the use of data from motion sensors to estimate change in position over time) and optical tracking. For plant detection, it relies on different optical sensors combined with a unique training approach to deep convolutional networks (DCNN’s). Furthermore, Franko says, “our safety system is redundant due to thermal imaging, as well as LiDAR and camera.”
Modular ETAROB features 2 tool slots and can perform several tasks. For spot spraying, an array of electrically controlled nozzles is used along with up to 2 400-litre tanks. The mechanical weeding currently relies on brushes that will be complimented with electro-physical weeding in 2021 in cooperation with the Crop.Zone company (also from Aachen, Germany). Also, lab testing is underway for harvesting iceberg lettuce.
The current 4th generation robot has a hybrid (diesel-electric) drive to operate 24/7 and the 4-wheel steering gives the 950 kg vehicle its good manoeuvrability. The modularity includes the ability to share several core modules with other field robot manufacturers in future. “Because openness for collaboration towards sustainable agriculture is key,” Josef Franko concludes.