Research project Automation technology is developing rapidly, not least in agriculture. Several of the biggest challenges in vehicular automation technology, such as complex interactions with other road users, are less problematic for agricultural vehicles than for road vehicles. There is therefore potential for comparatively rapid development and market introduction.
The purpose of this project is to develop important elements for automation of field work for plant cultivation and verify them on an existing agricultural machine. This includes control systems for propulsion and implements, security, computer communication and interfaces with other hard-/software. The results will be available as open source code, so that other systems can use our software platform for autonomous agricultural vehicles. We hope that it is a step in the development of systems that are increasingly environmentally friendly, efficient and affordable plant cultivation systems.
The overall theme of this project is to streamline plant cultivation in the field through the introduction of a small autonomous agricultural robot. The use of smaller agricultural machinery has shown potential to improve efficiency and reduce the need for expensive equipment, while at the same time reducing the environmental impact The project consists of a number of work packages investigating different critical functions for autonomous agricultural vehicles. Umeå University is leading the work package on data communication.
Communication in the existing robot
For the current automated cultivation robot, data communication is necessary to transmit precalculated paths for the robot to follow, positioning data, streaming video and operational messages (emergency stop, malfunction). At the moment the system uses the 4G network as it has sufficient bandwidth, but this assumes 4G coverage over the activity area of the robot. For the case of missing coverage and depending on the required robot functionalities other suitable wireless technologies need to be identified. Eliminating the need for e.g. video streaming, reduces the bandwidth demand considerably, which makes it possible to communicate over large areas with low power radio.
Which communication needs will the future robot have?
Future agricultural robots will have an increasing degree of autonomy, which will have an impact on the communication needs of each single robot. We will also see several agricultural robots collaborating on the same field, introducing the need for communication between several robots on a local level. At the moment it seems as if none of the commercially available communication technologies will be able to fulfil all coverage and bandwidth demands, so we will investigate how possible wireless communication technologies can be adapted to secure future communication needs for single and groups of autonomous cultivation robots.