Overview: Agriculture is a continuously expanding sector which faces a well known restraint to productivity known as weed which leads to increase in agricultural costs, reduction in value of land and harboring of pests. A Swiss company has found an ingenious way to deal with the problem with the use of technology. The resulting product is both environments friendly and efficient. This product of artificial intelligence (AI) works on the principle of ‘see and spray’.
Evolution: The Swiss robot is a revolution in weed control techniques which in recent years have shifted from handpicking to chemical use. Weedicides are now common and are in popular use globally as they not only eliminate visible weed growth but also destroy the seeds of such weeds which may not be easily visible. The Swiss technology startup Ecorobotix relies on AI in taking the concept of weed removal to the next level and thus developed the autonomous robot weeder. This robot uses photovoltaic panels and is solar powered. It has GNSS navigation, a camera and artificial vision system to detect crop rows and identify weed. The robot also has multilink arms and a navigation system that helps it distinguish normal crops from weeds. Other companies are also exploring the field of technology in agriculture and are undertaking similar projects. Further developments include:-
- ‘scan and spray’ technology research being done by American company Blue River.
- Franklin Robotics has developed Tertill.
- Naio Technologies created Oz weeding robot.
- Deepfield Robotics owned by German Robert Bosch is working on Bonirob which is an automated weeding machine that physically destroys weeds.
- Denmark’s Agrointelli is working on precision spraying technologies.
Market Scenario: Seed industry analysis revealed that automated weeders are not good for everyone as some of the profit pools that are in the hands of big agrochemical companies will now shift partly to the farmer and partly to equipment manufacturers. According to seed market research reports herbicide sales account for half of the pesticides revenue and reduction in sales could disrupt the pesticides and seeds industry by reducing the need for universal herbicides and the genetically modified crops that tolerate them. BASE, a German corporation which is the world’s largest chemical company, has recently invested heavily in Ecorobotix’s product along with CapAgro. Leading players such as Germany’s Bayer and BASE alongside Swiss Syngenta have started to modify their business models to incorporate agricultural technology.
Competition: Germany has emerged as the absolute leader in agricultural technology and is constantly innovating to further its creations. Bayer and Bosch teamed up in 2017 for a ‘smart spraying’ research project. Bayer is also expected to become the world’s largest seed market and pesticides producer when its acquisition of Monsanto is completes. China is also picking up pace, ChemChina bought Syngenta in 2017.
Conclusion: The efforts of the Swiss company are paving the way for agricultural technologies that will not only be more efficient but also environment friendly. Germany has emerged as a leader in this industry followed by Switzerland and US with China showing recent interests.
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Ankur Gupta, Head Marketing & Communications