Queensland farmers launch commercial farming robots

Date & Time: 2018-04-26 04:15:25

ANDREW and Jocie Bates know robotic technology is the future of farming and they are excited to be holding the key. The Bates are just a few months away from rolling out robots to commercial farmers, driving a whole new wave of technology and efficiency in all types of agriculture. The central Queensland grain growers founded SwarmFarm Robotics at Gindie, south of Emerald, eight years ago when they realised that many traditional farming methods were no longer effective or sustainable long term. “We’ve been farming here since the late 1970s — we had zero till, controlled traffic and we were fairly efficient at what we were doing but we thought where to next?” Andrew said. “The mining industry here meant we struggled with permanent staff and everyone was buying bigger and bigger machinery and equipment, yet the equipment was so big it wasn’t as effective — and herbicide resistance was becoming a huge problem.” Andrew thought robots were the answer to using herb­icides more effectively and started looking into the technology. “Driverless cars weren’t even being talked about yet but there were some driverless dump trucks in the WA mines,” Andrew said. The Bateses learnt some valuable information and lessons through the university sector and developed a clear vision of where they wanted to go. “To meet the needs of a rapidly growing human population, we need to grow more food than ever before,” Andrew said. “Bigger machines are not the answer, smarter machines are.” TEE OFF THE Bateses wanted to create a small, simple machine that did simple tasks very well. The initial concept began as an autonomous golf buggy, which later progressed to the base robot they have now. It is an open interface robot, a platform to potentially carry any type of farm equipment, making it suitable for all types of agriculture, ranging from broadacre cropping to horticulture and turf farms. “The base platform opens the innovation to anybody at a grassroots level,” Andrew said. “It can have a fertiliser spreader attached, a sprayer or a mower, and in years to come there will even be a robot for deep ripping.” SwarmFarm has a team of permanent staff working to refine the technology. Jocie said they had raised about $4 million in seed funding over three years to get to this point. “Sometimes it feels slow but it’s technology that we have to get right,” she said. “We are creating software and hardware so when you have elements ranging from radio communications to bits of steel and tyres, hydraulic drive systems, GPS and safety, it’s very complex.”