These robots help farmers increase crop yields

Robot sitting on ground among green stalks (© EarthSense Inc.)
The farming robot TerraSentia uses visual cameras, lidar, GPS and other onboard sensors to autonomously collect data on plants. (© EarthSense Inc.)

Small, motorized robots could boost crop yields in the U.S. and abroad.

Illinois company EarthSense and the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, aided by a grant from the U.S. Department of Energy, developed one such robot called TerraSentia.

Farming robotics and agricultural artificial intelligence are a growing technological trend. There are new self-driving tractors and robots that can plant fields, in addition to apps that connect farmers to farming equipment on demand.

TerraSentia’s goal is to “create the next generation of more productive and resilient crop varieties,” according to Chinmay Soman, the co-founder and chief executive of EarthSense, by helping farmers make more profit by finding problems early and addressing critical threats, such as rapidly spreading herbicide-resistant weeds.

In a cornfield, the robot traverses the terrain, scanning the rows to calculate the number of plants, their stem width and their height. The robot collects and records this data using a range of sensors, such as video cameras, light detection and ranging technology, and GPS navigation.

The robot then sends the information to farmers, who use the data to optimize crop growth in real time.

So far, TerraSentia has successfully examined corn, soybean, wheat, sorghum and vegetable crops, in addition to orchards and vineyards.