Can "cobots" transform the agriculture industry?

Today, living in the era of robotic technologies and automation fosters a heightening interest in agri-tech. Cobots remain the fastest-growing segment of industrial automation, projected to grow at a CAGR of 43.4% from 2021 to 2027. However, with the constant rise of cobot usage, existing government initiatives, and farmers demanding perfect “man-machine” collaboration in urban farming, cobots will continue to make dramatic inroads in the agriculture landscape.

For non-agriculturally intensive nations like Singapore, food security is a concern, further exacerbated by the COVID-19 pandemic. Within Singapore’s small, but growing urban agriculture sector, there exist food growers like Singrow.  Singrow develops innovative agri-tech solutions for producing fruits and vegetables, and deploy cobots in their harvesting and pollination systems. Collaborating with Universal Robots and Augmentus, Singrow uses an integrated AI model that helps to identify flowers and strawberries.

Once the flowers are identified by the camera on the cobot, a fan gets activated to blow faster for more effective pollination. Singrow matches strawberries to its database using its camera and infrared scanner and programs the cobot to pick out ripe strawberries.

According to James McKew, Regional Director of Asia-Pacific in Universal Robots, modern agriculture more automation will be seen soon in urban farming.

“Typically, agriculture-related jobs demand a soft touch to handle delicate flowers and fruits. Similar tasks that require high precision and concentration may be a challenge for humans after a prolonged period. In order to reduce human errors and maintain a high production output, cobots will be a perfect solution for urban farming. Repetitive tasks such as manual pollination can be taken over by cobots, relieving human workers to take on better roles that tap on their cognitive and social abilities,” explained McKew.

In the past, McKew pointed out that farmers were resistant to advanced technologies such as automation and robotics and they typically prefer traditional methods instead. Most farmers believed that robots in agriculture are expensive to purchase, inflexible, space-hogging, and require engineers to program the robots.

“As people often associated cobots with traditional industrial robots, we need to address these misconceptions. Today’s cobots are versatile and flexible, they are adaptable to urban farming purposes. These small-sized cobots are not only cost-effective, but their simple programming also makes them ideal for a wide range of applications in the agricultural landscape. Farmers need not worry about the unintuitive programming of robots since cobots are easy to implement, operate and maintain,” he added.

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