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Robot swarms for precision agriculture


Agricultural robotics
Agricultural robotics

Swarms of drones will help farmers to map weeds in their field, and improve crop yields. This is the promise of a recently founded research project called ‘SAGA: Swarm Robotics for Agricultural Applications’, to be presented at the forthcoming Maker Fair held in Rome from October the 14th to the 16th. The project will deliver a swarm of Unmanned Aerial Vehicles (UAVs) programmed to monitor a field and precisely map the presence of weeds among the crops through on-board machine vision. Additionally, drones communicate among each other to aggregate to and accurately inspect only the most weed-infested areas, in a way similar to swarms of bees that forage only from the most profitable flower patches. In this way, the planning of weed control activities can be limited to high-priority areas, hence generating savings while increasing productivity.

“The application of swarm robotics to precision agriculture represents a paradigm shift with a tremendous potential impact” says Dr. Vito Trianni, SAGA project coordinator and researcher at the Institute of Cognitive Sciences and Technologies of the Italian National Research Council (ISTC-CNR). “As the price of robotics hardware lowers and the miniaturization and abilities of robots increase, we will soon assist to the application of automatized solutions at the individual-plant level. This needs to be accompanied by the ability to work in large groups, so as to efficiently cover big fields and work in synergy. Swarm robotics offers solutions to such a problem”, says Dr. Trianni. Miniature machines avoid soil compaction and can act only where needed; robots can adopt mechanical solutions, as opposed to the use of chemicals, suitable for organic farming; and robot swarms can be scaled to just fit different farm sizes. Novel hardware, precise individual control and collective intelligence: this is the recipe proposed by the SAGA project for precision farming. In this particular case, innovative hardware solutions are provided by Avular B.V., a dutch firm specialised in industrial level UAVs for monitoring and inspection. Individual control and machine vision are deployed thanks to the expertise of the Farm Technology Group at the Wageningen University and Research Center. The collective intelligence is instead designed at the already mentioned ISTC-CNR, leveraging on the expertise to design and analyse collective behaviours in artificial systems (e.g., robot swarms). For the next year, these organisations will team up to produce and test in the field the first prototype of a UAV swarm for weed control.

About SAGA

SAGA is founded by ECHORD++, an European project that wants to bring the excellence of the robotics research “from lab to market”, through focused experiments in specific application domains, among which precision agriculture is also counted (see SAGA is a collaborative research project that involves: the Institute of Cognitive Sciences and Technologies (ISTC-CNR) of the Italian National Research Council (CNR), which provides expertise in swarm robotics applications and acts as the coordinator for SAGA's activities; the Wageningen University and Research Centre (WUR), which provides expertise in the agricultural robotics and precision farming domains; and Avular B.V., a company specialised in UAV solutions for industrial and agricultural applications.

For more information, see

Per informazioni:
Vito Trianni
CNR - Istituto di scienze e tecnologie della cognizione
Via San Martino della Battaglia 44, 00185 Rome, Italy

Responsabile Unità Ufficio stampa:
Marco Ferrazzoli
06 4993 3383

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