Last week, the city of Salinas, California played host to the 2023 FIRA USA agricultural robotics show. The exhibition showcased over 25 innovative agricultural robotics solutions and associated technology vendors.
The focal point of this year’s show was undoubtedly the captivating in-field demonstrations, showcasing a variety of autonomous solutions operating on real plants. In a strategic move to enhance the overall experience, this year’s highly anticipated event was rescheduled from its previous October date to the month of September. The primary objective behind this decision was to facilitate the live in-field demonstrations. Based on my own experience, this decision proved to be a resounding success for the vendors involved.
However, the unfortunate side effect of putting the show at the end of the growing season was that the event was lightly attended by actual farmers, who had to stay home to harvest their crops.
I talked to multiple vendors who were disappointed by the lack of end users at the show, but the tractor distributors/VARs and resellers were there, as well as industry insiders, investors, and a large contingent of local school kids.
Burro demonstrated new features
Burro is an autonomous mobile robot company that produces a nimble outdoor AMR that is useful for helping to move material around the farm. Burro AMRs have been deployed into applications such as hauling crates of picked grapes from human pickers to the packing stations in the field as well as towing movable carts around plant nurseries.
At FIRA, Burro demonstrated several new expansion packs including a new 3D lidar sensor with a larger sensing range that enables the safety zones for higher speeds. They also launched new high-torque motors and expanded brackets for higher payloads (up to 750 lbs). In the live demos in vineyards, a Burro equipped with a BCS/Zanon style mowing implement demonstrated a Burro in a mowing application. Finally, the company demonstrated its new autonomous charging station.
Field demos were the highlight of the event
In the field demos, companies including SeedSpider, Stout Agtech, Mantis Agtech, Ecorobotix, Naio Technologies and Kult demonstrated mechanical weeding/cultivation on medium-density vegetable crops. These weeding units included both fully autonomous, standalone AMRs as well as implement versions of the equipment. Carbon Robotics demonstrated laser weeding and Verdant Robotics demonstrated selective spraying on high-density vegetable crops.
In my opinion, the Agtonomy solution performed flawlessly in its navigation and perception, following recent software releases after the launch of the product in April 2023 at the World Ag Expo. The company has partnered with Bobcat to produce the chassis for the Agtonomy solution and will look to partner with other OEM manufacturers to deploy its autonomy and perception engine.
Piaggio Fast Forward launched new Follow Me module
Piaggio Fast Forward (PFF) launched their new “follow me module” – a completely self-contained, IP65 sealed perception and computing device that can be attached to any outdoor robot and deliver the same functionality seen on PFF’s Gita consumer robotics product line. This launch is part of the PFF product roadmap as the company moves from developing and perfecting its perception and guidance algorithms in the consumer electronics world to the requirements in the agricultural and industrial world.
Startup pitch contest winner: TRIC Robotics
The startup pitch event cohort of companies was especially crowded and competitive with twelve young startups competing for bragging rights and a compelling prize package that includes advisory services, a booth at next year’s FIRA USA event along with a healthy cash prize. The winner was TRIC Robotics, an autonomous solution that uses UVC light to help control fungus and pests on plants like strawberries. We’ve invited TRIC Robotics to compete at the upcoming RoboBusiness PitchFire event.
Interesting new GNSS solution: Geodnet
Last, but not least, the one serendipitous discovery at the show was a new company called Geodnet. In the world of outdoor robotics, location accuracy is critical, especially for applications that require greater accuracy than proved by a standalone GPS signal. To get positional accuracies in the centimeter range requires the use of GNSS stations and receivers.
There are a number of large companies(e.g. Trimble, Fixposition) who are now providing this service. Geodnet is taking a different approach to the problem with a crowdsourcing mesh network solution, where anyone can purchase a Geodnet antenna, put it on their property, and register its location with the network. End users (i.e. an autonomous tractor operating in a field, or a delivery robot/drone) can then leverage the signal to find its position. The station owners then earn an income, in the form of a cyber currency, from these subscribers who use their stations’ data.