By combining the propellers of a quadcopter with an ingenious jumping mechanism, CropHopper is able to quickly travel across fields and work for much longer than a drone. It weighs 3kg, costs € 15/ha, can operate without an operator, it can work in-crop all season and it offers the potential to also automatically treat weeds, pests and diseases.
Part drone, part hopper, the CropHopper is designed to jump across fields to scan crops, identify weeds and diseases, as well as to carry out mechanical weeding and spot spraying.
Key to its operation and endurance is a carbon-fibre jumping leg. This has two flexible arms that look like an archery bow. These are tensioned and bent into the bow shape by an electric winding mechanism. When the tension is released, the bow arms spring back to their original shape and in the process propel the CropHopper into the air.
About half way into the jump four propellers engage to increase the travel distance and soften the landing. Then it takes high-quality pictures very close to the ground so that it can identify problems less than 1mm in size. The process is then repeated, as it hops across the field every four seconds.
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CropHopper is the brainchild of Fred Miller, the CEO and founder of HayBeeSee. Born in London, but with farming connections in the USA, Fred studied aeronautical engineering at Imperial College London. Unlike a drone, which requires a battery change or recharge every 20-30 mins, the CropHopper can cover about 70 ha in a day on three charges or battery changes.
In the future it’s planned that it will propel itself to a charging station, where it will automatically recharge or change batteries. An intruder alarm will notify users of any interference and, if necessary, it can fly away.
The jumping robot is designed to operate autonomously with minimum supervision. As it hops across fields in 10m spaced grid-points, it stops and takes 12m³ of high-resolution images, which are processed to detect weeds or pests.
It is anticipated that it will also apply spot sprays or in future destroy weeds with an on-board rotary hoe. By making 10m jumps every 3-4 seconds, it’s able to cover 3 ha in just 20 mins, producing an overall workrate of about 9 ha/hr (i.e. about 70 ha/day). Images are processed instantly on board and sent to the cloud. There they can be viewed in real time and exported to agronomy software to develop application plans for sprays and inform other CropHopper actions like spot spraying.
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HayBeeSee is developing its own software, with algorithms that are already able to identify weeds as well as spot pests and diseases on leaves. It’s also possible to set alarms to alert users in real time if it detects problems exceeding certain thresholds or imminent threats like disease.
“CropHopper can cover more ground, more easily than a drone or quadcopter because it jumps, which saves a huge amount of energy. This means it can be used more often and for longer, gathering huge amounts of data,” explains Fred.
HayBeeSee’s agronomist Lawrence Couzens sees a massive opportunity in areas where other solutions have failed to deliver. “Time windows for spraying and other actions are extremely tight,” he says. “The key to data making an impact in farming is collecting ground-level resolution images that clearly show pests. Then processing and delivering maps to farmers and agronomists fast enough for them to make a range of decisions.”
To overcome this challenge, CropHopper will work every two days, which is frequent enough to spot the first aphids in the crop during spring. Trials also show that its legs don’t damage crops when working later in the season.
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