The Vehicle a New Zealand Company Created To Address Labor Shortages

A New Zealand-based agritech company believes it has created a multi-use vehicle that vineyards can use to automate a number of tasks amid labor shortages.

Robotics Plus  this week launched a multi-purpose unmanned ground vehicle that it says can be supervised in a fleet of vehicles by a single human operator. 

The vehicle uses a combination of vision systems and other technologies to sense the environment and allow intelligent and targeted application of inputs such as sprays. 

Growers will be able to rotate multiple tools for jobs such as spraying, weed control, mulching, mowing and crop analysis.

The robotics and AI specialist unveiled its demonstration vehicle at FIRA USA 2022, a California-based event dedicated to autonomous agriculture and agricultural robotics solutions for the North American market.

Steve Saunders, co-founder and CEO of Robotics Plus, said the team worked alongside growers, researchers and technology suppliers to deliver the modular architecture for its multi-purpose UGV, which can operate in a range of environments.

“We’ve created a flexible agricultural platform with the power to adapt to different crop types with tools for various applications, providing year-round automation benefits and maximizing machine utilization,” Saunders said. “To adapt and thrive in a changing world and create a sustainable and competitive future in the agricultural and speciality tree crop sector – growers and orchardists need automation that solves real-world problems, reduces reliance on increasingly costly and hard-to-find machine operators and provides data-driven insights for informed decision-making.”

The first application for the technology is intelligent spraying. The system intelligently varies the flow rate to ensure spray efficacy whilst reducing inputs. Spray rates and airspeed is controlled in zones and responds as the sprayer moves along orchard or vineyard rows.

The UGV has a small footprint and incorporates electric steering and independent motors, which increases productivity — allowing significantly more ground to be covered than machines which turn on every second row or greater, depending on row configuration. The UGV can be deployed in a range of applications in various crop types with a minimum row spacing of six feet.

Saunders said the multi-purpose vehicle replaces tractors and other tools. 

“But, it does much more than just replacing labor – it’s loaded with intelligence to improve efficiencies,” he said.

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