Autonomous robot improves employee efficiency

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Already owners of a DOT Power-Platform, operations manager Chuck Baresich says the company’s new investment in a RoamIO autonomous robot is specifically intended to help employees accomplish more in less time.

“We wanted this robot because every year we have a range of small monotonous tasks that just don’t get done,” says Baresich. “My vision is RoamIO becomes a partner unit to our employees that can increase the productivity of existing staff. It takes some skill to work, so its augmenting skilled workers ability to get things done.”

The RoamIO robot is separate unit from any attachment. The steel rack shown on the current prototype was added at Haggerty Creek to hold an optical soil sensor and hopper for cover crop seeding. – Photo: Matt McIntosh

What is RoamIO

RoamIO autonomous robots are developed and marketed by Ontario-based startup Korechi Innovations Inc. The unit has both LiDAR and Radar, and operates using RTK. It’s controlled via a tablet, though both the tablet and unit itself have their own internet signals. This, says Sougata Pahari, founder and chief executive officer of Korechi, helps expand the range at which RoamIO can operate.

“Paths are generated on the tablet. This is sent to a relay box on the machine, and it starts moving,” says Pahari. “It has a movement resolution that can bring it to within five millimeters of the specified destination within the field. Even if it’s told to go a kilometer away it is within one inch.”

Other specifications

• Speed of 6 km/hr
• Powered by Lithium-ion batteries with an eight-hour battery life
• Between 3000-4000 charge cycles
• Carrying capacity of 660 pounds (300 kilograms)
• Average weight distribution of three pounds (1.4 kilograms) per square inch when loaded with fertiliser, cover crop seed, etc.

Main prototype

The unit currently employed at Haggerty Creek – one of two currently in use, and the only one working commercially – is actually Korechi’s main prototype used for demonstrations and further research. Baresich is due to receive a larger version (five feet by 45 inches in size), though shipping issues have delayed final construction.

Even with the larger size, Baresich says his forthcoming machine is still small enough to fit in the back of most pickup trucks. That means no special licenses are required to transport it, and more people will be able to use it.

Soil scanning and cover crop application

Unlike some autonomous farm equipment, RoamIO exists as an entirley separate machine – that is, not one built for a select purpose. This is what originally attracted Baresich to the design, since he saw opportunity to augmented it with a wide range of implements. These could be separately added, removed, and controlled.

In March of this year, for example, Baresich attached a seed hopper to the still-working RoamIO prototype in order to apply clover as a cover crop. At the time, he said uniform dispersal and complete coverage of 50 acres (450 pounds) was achieved in six hours using a spreading distance of 40 feet, although a wider distance was possible. Some initial challenges were resolved with slight modifications, though no issues with terrain (mud) were experienced.

Now Baresich and his colleagues are using RoamIO for soil testing and analysis. This is done by attaching a SoilOptix soil sensor camera.

“Soil sampling is a tedious task and takes a while. It involves taking strategic core samples, as well as very consistent, slow driving to ensure the optical sensor works properly. Inconsistent speeds skew the data. Instead of doing 250 acres a day when we send someone to the field, we should now be able to do 400 or 500,” says Baresich.

“It could also be used for weed and brush control. We need to make sure those pathways along the field stay open by having them sprayed a couple times a year. We have to be very vigilant about resistant weeds. A small sprayer tank and a six-foot swath is all you would need.”

Employ RoamIO in disease and pest scouting

In the long term Baresich says they also hope to employ RoamIO in disease and pest scouting, as well as fertilizer application. Ideally, they will eventually acquire an additional unit to support staff.

“We had acres this spring that just didn’t get done,” he says. “Say we charge $ 20 to $ 25 an acre for soil optical analysis work – we will be doubling that output.”

Korechi employees Jim Clark (left), chief marketing officer, and Sougata Pahari (right), founder and chief executive officer, pose with their commercially-working RoamIO robot at Haggerty Creek Ltd. in July, 2020. – Photo: Matt McIntosh

Cost, and further refinement

Baresich’s forthcoming larger unit brings a price tag of $ 75,000. Baresch says he has “been assured” a full ten-year battery life, with 80 per cent power potential left at that time.

“I’d budget maybe $ 1000 a year for maintenance,” he says. The only other anticipated costs relate to the data support systems associated with their existing precision technologies. “I’ve really learned over the years – you really need the data support,” says Bareisch.

The cost of Korechi’s prototype RoamIO is not fixed since it continues to undergo changes based on feedback from Baresich and his colleagues. The initial speed of the unit, for example, was only four kilometers per hour. This is inadequate for larger scale fields, though not for the smaller vineyards and orchards for which it was originally designed.

“I wanted 12 kilometers per hour, but that ended up being a bit too fast to maintain consistency [in soil analysis], so we met in the middle at 6 kilometers per hour,” says Baresich.

Next RoamIO model named after Haggerty Creek

For Pahari, working with Haggerty Creek has been invaluable to RoamIO’s design. “Not being involved directly with the agriculture industry, there were uses and complications we did not foresee,” Pahari says. They experienced so many revelations, in fact, the next model will be named after Haggerty Creek Ltd.

Names aside, Baresich reiterates his belief that small, adaptable autonomous units are a reasonable solution for smaller farms – ones that otherwise cannot afford larger, much more costly equipment, or full-time employees. “If you’re growing 500 acres it doesn’t might not make sense to have a hired person full-time,” he says.

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