US company Easton Robotics is developing an autonomous ground vehicle for small farms. The multipurpose platform, called ERMMI, will allow farmers to use multiple standard attachments and implements.
Easton Robotics was a virtual exhibitor at the international agricultural robot event FIRA in Toulouse. CEO Jeff Chandler of Easton Robotics, an 11th generation farmer, founded his startup in 2019. He decided to focus on solutions for small farms, striving to develop robots that add direct value to the farmer by improving the price received for the crop, through quality of the crop, or the improved characteristics of the crop.
Also read: FIRA: Scaling robotic operations on the farm
The company has developed its first prototype for a family of vehicles. In 2022 Easton Robotics expects to build task specific product prototypes. In 2023 the company intends to start field testing and build commercial robots. After 2023 Easton Robotics aims to scale up.
The frame of the platform has an adjustable wheelbase and a dynamic or fixed width. The drivetrain has 4 motors with differential steering and is battery powered. The robot has adjustable ground clearance and a movable ballast system. The ERMMI platform has front and side mounts. The arm mountings are similar to a 3-point hitch with an electric PTO. It can have articulated arms or fixed arms and a rear towing mount.
“We aim to develop a family of products that scale up, depending on the different sizes that a farm is involved in”, Chandler points out. “Part of the secret to making it affordable is to build on existing components, implements and attachments, without reinventing every single component.”
The company focuses specifically on grain crops (wheat, soybeans, corn and sorghum) and other densely planted crops. It will not work on weeding machines or drones. Chandler says that Easton Robotics wants to develop affordable products and will use dealer networks and retail chains as distribution channels.
The small robot would on average need 7.5 hour to complete an area of 10 acres. The robots will be able to work night and day with an electric drive, at a ground speed of 1.37 metre per second. Setup time would be 5 minutes.
Tasks could be spraying, planting, fertilising, crop health monitoring and cover crop seeding. And tasks in farm management could be animal control, fence inspection and perimeter maintenance.
Easton Robotics expects farmers can use its robots to prevent crop loss with the ability to use image recognition, path planning and navigation. Farmers should also be able to enhance revenue by adding direct value to farmers through high quality or improved characteristics of crops, resulting in a better price per bushel.
And the platform would allow farmers to reduce or eliminate labour costs in which the robot could perform multiple tasks instead of a human crew. “A small robot requires less set up time, travel time, eliminates fuel costs, and can produce labour at any time during the day”, Chandler says. “It can eliminate maybe 95% of operator labour.”
Chandler emphasises that a lot of the focus so far has been on big farms. “That’s where the money is. But small farms have different problems. The parameter is ill defined, the rows are not straight and the fields have a lot of stubble in them.” He says the role of small farms is quite important. In the US 45% of the farms are less then 50 acres.