FEATURED: The future is in the bots

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SwarmBot golf buggy prototype Could this be the future of farming? An unmanned machine equipped with spray booms for robotic spraying. SwarmBot golf buggy prototype

If you have the largest tractor available, odds are it will rust under a tree while hordes of smaller robotic machines swarm across paddocks like insects. Col Jackson looks to a future where big is out of the equation.

FEATURED: The future is in the bots
The brains behind the SwarmBot - Andrew Bate

I have been reliably informed one of the generalised uses for robotics in tractors would enable golf courses to be mowed at night.

On the other hand, a grain and cattle farmer from central Queensland near Emerald has been using a golf cart as a prototype to fine tune his ideas currently being developed in a highly secret project.

One name has been coming to the fore on a number of occasions as I delve further into a common topic among farmers: the progress towards unmanned tractors that will work 24 hours a day without unnecessary stops.

"You should talk to Andrew Bate," was a suggestion during an Agrifood National Regional Initiatives ‘Focussing on the Future’ forum in Chinchilla in February, held as part of the international year of family farming.

Working in conjunction with the Queensland University of Technology, Andrew Bate’s six-year project is about farming robotic technologies destined to change the future of farming, not just tractors and equipment.

The prototype is a golf buggy equipped with spray booms to initially develop a system for robotic spraying.

The next generation is what Bate refers to as the ‘SwarmBot’ — a top secret experimental model incorporating all the findings from the prototype and more.

Throughout our discussion he remains very careful not to drop any inkling as to what the new machine would entail or incorporate, other than to say that it won’t have a buggy as its basis.

"SwarmBots will come in many sizes — from the size of a ride-on lawnmower upwards," Bate says.

The only difference, he says, dropping another clue about where he has come from and where his project is going, is that there will be a lot more of them.

While the basis of Bate’s Bendee Farming operation, south-east of Emerald, is 8,000 hectares of cereal crops and 3,000 head of cattle, his new frontier centres on the automation of agriculture.

Bate’s golf-cart-based prototype vehicle is being used to test robotics for zero tillage agriculture and other revolutionary ideas.

Read the full story in the May issue of NewFarmMachinery out May 19. Subscribe to the magaizne to never miss an issue. 

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