The California Rodeo Salinas is set to become a hub of agricultural technology during the 2023 edition of FIRA USA. The agricultural robot event will host more than 15 in-field robot demos in September this year, on cultivated crops and in real conditions.
A relatively unknown newcomer is WeedSpider, a platform capable of automatically weeding, spraying, and thinning a variety of crops. US company SeedSpider says farmers can choose a fully autonomous weeding robot service or a tractor-based weeding machine.
The platform features autonomous guidance, and crop health monitoring, delivering growers insight into their crops. The all-electric, solar powered robot – that spans up to three 80-inch (2.03 m) seed beds – uses mechanical weeding and thinning arms. According to SeedSpider, the WeedSpider can replace a weeding crew of up to 20 people.
US company farm-ng will demonstrate its robot Amiga, an all-electric micro-tractor that can adapt to any farm’s cropping system. Farmers have already personalised the Amiga for a range of tasks, including lifting, planting, seeding, harvesting, and other activities that are unsuitable for costly tractors or dedicated implements.
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Other robot manufacturers demonstrating their products on the field include Agtonomy, GUSS, Nexus Robotics, Naïo Technologies, Solinftec and Stout Industrial Technology. Bluewhite shows its Pathfinder technology, that transforms any brand of existing orchard or vineyard tractor into to a fully autonomous vehicle, capable of executing multiple tasks, such as spraying, herbicide, discing, mowing, or harvesting, with high precision.
Visitors can also see the new fully-electric, driver-optional MK-V tractor from California-based Monarch in action, as well as Verdant’s tractor mounted implement, that is able to tackle weeds to millimetre-accurate precision with crop protection liquids and laser, while modelling the crop on the go.
According to Western Growers vice president for Innovation Walt Duflock, the main focus of the event is to bring startups and growers together, and show how robotic farming companies are working to solve agricultural labour shortages. “Let’s get all the agtech and automation folks in one place for three days and start the conversations”, he says.
“Growers and robots are the centre of attention for one obvious reason – nothing happens for start-ups until growers see the solution, believe in the solution, and buy the solution. Everything else is noise.”
The big kick off event will be a 3-hour live robot extravaganza, Mr Duflock points out. “For 3 hours in the stadium, a rodeo-style announcer will interview startups and growers that use their products for the good, the bad, and the ugly of agtech adoption – why don’t field trials always go well, why does it take growers so long to buy, and what does a good customer integration look like, will all be prominent topics. Fans in the audience will have a chance to see all of the robots, the founders that invented them, and the growers that are using them.”
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FIRA USA 2023 is a 3-day event, starting 19 September, and ending 21 September. It will take place in the Salinas Sports Complex, the home of the California Rodeo Salinas. The event offers farmers, robot manufacturers, industry, and scientists opportunities for networking, and visitors can also hold business meetings and see research projects presentations.
The event will include a start-up Pitch Session, focused on agricultural robotics and autonomous systems for farming, an exhibition of innovations for autonomous farming, and panel discussions with experts discussing and debating the issues and opportunities for North American growers.
The first day will also focus on youth, and include a high school robotics competition, student presentations with graduate and undergraduate poster sessions, a robot parade, and networking.
FIRA USA’S Co-organisers are GOFAR, Western Growers and The VINE, an initiative of University of California. Last year’s US FIRA event, held in Fresno, attracted over 1,000 people. This year organisers expect to double that number, with over 60 exhibitors and 25 or more robots present.