STFC RAL Space is working closely with other project members from the UK and China to develop an autonomous robot that can conduct chemical soil tests in a timely and cost effective way. The project is led by the University of Strathclyde and funded by the UK Space Agency’s International Partnerships Space Programme. Agri-rover’s aim is to provide farmers with a greater understanding of soil quality.
The autonomous Agri-rover robot has a remotely controlled arm to collect samples and crops, and a Laser Induced Breakdown Spectrometer that detects soil composition. A camera installed on the robot is used to create a 3D map of the farm land whilst GPS provides visual markers to improve the maps accuracy.
In August 2016, two days of field tests were conducted to assess the robot’s navigation software and on-board instrumentation. The first morning of testing took place on a farm that had been harvested but before crops had been sown as this is when farmers usually measure soil quality. Whilst the robot could easily travel over the field, a lack of objects made it difficult to navigate and to pinpoint the location of samples. On the afternoon, researchers monitored the robot’s status as it travelled down a single tyre track and navigated a harvested field. The second day of testing took place on a raspberry plantation and trialled the robotic arms ability to collect samples, weeds, and fruits.
Following the success of these initial tests, the Agri-rover project will conduct further field tests in the UK and China.