EarthSense shows why the future of farming belongs to autonomous robots

Written by Theo Koenig – March 18, 2021

Reviewed by Asaf Kedem

As if autonomous driving wasn’t complicated enough, EarthSense, a start-up founded in 2018, has developed an autonomous robot capable of monitoring plant growth. The project, led by the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, combines aspects of robotics, software, and genomics to create a farm-help for under $10,000.

With the world’s population levels expected to reach 9.7 billion by 2050, the demand for improved efficiency of farming activities is now skyrocketing. The concept of automating farming tasks, be it through the use of drones for overhead imagery or tracking sensors for livestock, is now being dubbed as the phenomenon of “precision farming.” Precision farming aims to use technical solutions to eliminate human errors and reduce labor time, without removing the human aspect or the relationship that a farmer has with their livestock.

EarthSense have currently created two robots for autonomous field scouting: the TerraSentia and the TerraMepp (although only the former is currently available for sale). The TerraSentia is a four-wheeled, compact robot featuring autonomous sensors – including RGB cameras, LIDAR, and GPS, all transmitting in real time. A fleet of TerraSentias can autonomously coordinate with one another and capture analytics on plant traits below the crop canopy for an entire farm. Their primary purpose is to provide weed control for farmers, specifically for corn and soybeans.

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The TerraMepp, despite still being under development, has also shown great signs of promise. This larger robot is best suited for collecting precise measurements above-the-canopy due to its uniquely extendable “neck”. As of now the TerraMepp is undergoing testing but unfortunately no expected cost or date of release have been announced.

Auto Trendy’s take:

TerraMepp co-founder, prof. Girish Chowdhary says his ultimate dream is for robots such as these to be used to grow food on Mars. There is still a long way to go for prof. Chowdhary, but these remarkable little autonomous robots certainly offer very exciting possibilities for the future of farming. Since its creation in 2018, the company has already accumulated an impressive list of partners that ranges from Microsoft Azure (cloud computing) to John Deere (agricultural manufacturer), and this despite the fact that the company is very much research-oriented rather than market-focused. The company plans on expanding its reach into all types of projects, including the possibility of farming drones and large combine harvesters.