The new Afara robotic cotton picker aims to relief human cotton pickers who normally pick the cotton leftovers that self-propelled cotton harvesters leave behind in cotton fields.
Afara Agricultural Technologies, a Turkish startup, is developing an autonomous vehicle to pick leftover cotton from cotton fields across the world. After the robot was developed for use on the inventors family farm, Afara Agricultural Technologies was established in 2023 to take the working prototype to commercialisation.
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According to Afara, co-founded by a son from a Turkish cotton farmer, 5 up to 20 percent of cotton yields end up in the field after self-propelled harvesters have left the field. Leftovers due to machinery limitations, operator constraints and also plant density and yield quantities. The leftovers are normally collected by hand in Turkey and in other countries. Which is a very labour intensive and rigorous job.
The fully electric Afara cotton pick robot is equipped with 4 RGB-cameras, 2 LiDAR sensors and ultrasonic sensors. The cameras are used to detect the leftover cotton while the LiDAR sensors are to detect obstacles and human beings in the robot’s path. The cotton detection rate is claimed to be 99.8 percent. The ultrasonic sensors determine the distance between the arms with suction cups and the ground. The arms with suction cups then suck up the leftover cotton and deliver it to an onboard container. The picking efficiency currently lies at 71 percent while the projected picking efficiency rate is targeted at 90 percent.
The onboard container can carry 150 to 200 kilograms of (partly compressed) cotton. The machine does not (yet) wrap the cotton in the container with rope or a net. As soon as the container is full, or prior to entering a new row when the container is nearly full, the robot navigates to a predetermined unloading point. There, a human operator has to empty the container into a trailer or equivalent. If necessary, the cotton can then be baled and wrapped afterwards.
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The initial model will be able to collect leftover cotton from two rows. Wider models will likely become available later on. While collecting the cotton, the robotic picker drives up to 3.2 km/h. Once the robot reaches the end of a row, a human operator has to turn the robot with a remote control and position the vehicle for a next row. The fully electric machine runs on a battery package that allows for up to 6 hours of autonomy. Recharging at regular speeds takes 6 to 7 hours while future fast charging at 84 kW is expected to take 1.5 hours.
The company aims to commercially introduce their cotton picker robot by the end of this year. The current two row model will be available for € 120,000 to € 130,000. Afara is also working on modules suitable for collecting leftover peanuts with the same collection principle and a software update. The Afara robotic cotton picker unfortunately wasn’t present at World FIRA, so for now we have to stick to photos and a video provided by the company.