Robots on the move

The ABC Landline TV program reports that Andrew and Jocie Bate's ambitious start-up SwarmFarm has partnered with ag-tech venture capital firm Tenacious Ventures to raise $4.5 million, offering the opportunity to build it production team and scale up manufacturing so that robots can be delivered quicker.

Fourteen SwarmFarm robots are currently working in orchards, on cotton and grain properties, and at a turf farm. Soon a vineyard in South Australia will also have one slashing grass, spraying weeds, and detecting and killing snails.

Jocie Bate said the robots were leased to farmers. "It's $70,000 a year for the three years, and we actually take it back and exchange them for new," she said.

Queensland cotton grower Jamie Grant has two, which he operates via a smartphone or computer. Mounted with cameras, a herbicide tank and a spray boom, the ag-bots, Tango and Victor, work days, nights and weekends, identifying and spraying weeds.

Jamie has cut his chemical use by nearly 80 per cent since he started using the robots. His eyes can't match the cameras that hone in on tiny weeds and prevent what he calls "big mongrel weeds" that use up precious soil moisture. "This is good for the environment and good for the longevity of the chemicals because we're taking out small weeds, and we're not building resistance to chemicals," he said.

Jamie believes he'll end up with five or six towing planters, air seeders and fertiliser spreaders. "We're just finding jobs for it all the time that we actually didn't ever think we would use it for," he said. When they're finished, they take themselves back to the shed and turn off.

The Bates have just launched SwarmConnect, allowing third-party developers to make apps for their robots.

As well as offering the potential for new uses, Jocie is confident the robots will increase the use of existing camera-weed-killing technology.



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