Can Small Robots Revolutionize Food Production?

Seoul, Hong Kong, New Delhi, Beijing, London, Buenos Aires, San Diego

February 19th, 2019

Smaller, not bigger, farms and farm machinery hold the key to feeding a growing population, while protecting the environment.

Farmers across the world are under constant pressure to grow more food while minimizing input costs and all while contending with megatrends such as urbanization and climate change. In addition, the natural environment is threatened by the widespread use of agricultural chemicals that can harm biodiversity and lead to low soil quality.

In the latest report from Counterpoint Research’s Emerging Technology Opportunities service, we show how specialized robots, some no bigger than a backpack, can dramatically change the dynamics of food production.

Discussing the findings, Associate Director, Gareth Owen says, “For decades farms have been getting bigger with huge single-crop fields predominating in many countries. But now the miniaturization of farm machinery is starting a countertrend that supports smaller and more diverse farms.” Owen goes on, “these robots can identify hundreds of different weed species and then decide on a course of action, for example, the micro application of weed killer or even using a laser to kill the weed. This type of targeted action can reduce pesticide use by up to 90%.”

Automated agriculture using small farm robots has the potential to boost yields, slash costs and alleviate chronic rural pollution by reducing the need for fertilizers and pesticides.’

Unmanned aerial vehicles, or drones, have been used in agriculture for several years. Drones can also undertake active management of the seeding, feeding and weeding process themselves, or in concert with small ground-based robots. And because robots can work autonomously using, for example, infrared and other sensors, they can work 24/7.

Gareth Owen goes on to explain, “In the medium term, we expect that small farm robots will evolve from data acquisition and weeding operations to the more complicated tasks of harvesting delicate fruit and vegetable crops with many eventually offering multiple functionalities. In the longer-term, Counterpoint Research believes that all crop harvesting in developed markets, including soft fruits and vegetable crops, will be completely automated.”

“We also expect developments in the business models from the current capex-based purchases of farm equipment to many more farming-as-a-service (FaaS) models, where the use of robots is provided on a per acre, or benefits delivered, basis. This can help farmers manage costs more efficiently.”

The technology’s development will not be smooth, however. Owen explains, “In the short-term, there are several challenges with respect to accuracy and reliability. Although humans can pick fruit effortlessly by hand, dextrous manipulation is a big challenge in robotics and tech companies are struggling to design robots that can pick fruit efficiently given their different shapes and sizes. To make significant progress there will need to be breakthroughs in several areas including the complex integration of vision, touch, force and movement, as well as, the ability to learn and adapt. These are not easy to accomplish – especially when AI talent is in demand in many competing industries.”

“Additional challenges may come from powerful agrochemical companies and the makers of large farm machines, that stand to have lucrative revenue streams disrupted if the full promise of small farm robotics can be realized.”

Companies mentioned in the report include: John Deere, Agribotix, Kesprey, PrecisionHawk, Delair-Tech, Soyl, Slantrage, Descartes Labs, Gro Intelligence, Small Robot Company, Tellus Labs., Blue River Technology, Naio Technologies, Ecobotix, Deepfield Robotics, Rootwave, PlantTape, Florensis, Kubota, Harvest Automation, Harvest CROO, Agbotic, Panasonic, DJI and more.

The report is available for subscribing clients and for purchase on our research portal. Please feel free to reach out to us at press(at)counterpointresearch.com for further questions regarding our in-depth latest research, insights or press enquiries.

Picture credit: Small Robot Company Limited.

Background:

Counterpoint Technology Market Research is a global research firm specializing in Technology products in the TMT industry. It services major technology firms and financial firms with a mix of monthly reports, customized projects and detailed analysis of the mobile and technology markets. Its key analysts are experts in the industry with an average tenure of 13 years in high-tech industries.

Analyst Contacts:

Gareth Owen

+44 74 1419 0167
[email protected]

Peter Richardson
[email protected]

Follow Counterpoint Research

press(at)counterpointresearch.com