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Robotics for microfarms

The long-term goal is to develop robotic tools and AI systems to
monitor, model and manage food-producing ecosystems. The ecosystems
that we are targeting are small, highly diversified, organic
farms. The tools that we are designing will have to intervene in this
complex natural environment and will have to gather the necessary data
that allows to track and predict the health of the plants and the
ecosystem.

These new tools may help increase the food production AND the
biodiversity of farming systems while at the same time lowering the
physical effort needed to run a farm.

We are currently working on the first steps towards this goal in the
EU funded project Robotics for Microfams (ROMI). Our starting point
was the observation that all over Europe, young farmers are starting
small market farms and direct sales businesses. These farms can be
found both in rural, peri-urban and urban areas. They grow a large
variety of crops (up to 100 different varieties of vegetables per
year) on small surfaces (0.01 to 5 ha) using agroecological farming
practices. These farms have proven to be highly productive,
sustainable and economically viable. However, a lot of work is done
manually, resulting in physically challenging work conditions.

The ROMI project will develop an open and lightweight robotics
platform for these microfarms. We will assist these farms in weed
reduction and crop monitoring. This will reduce manual labour and
increase the productivity through advanced planning tools. Thanks to
ROMI’s weeding robot, farmers will save 25% of their time. This land
robot will also acquire detailed information on sample plants and will
be coupled with a drone that acquires more global information at crop
level. Together, they will produce an integrated, multi-scale picture
of the crop development that will help the farmer monitor the crops to
increase efficient harvesting. For this, ROMI will have to adapt and
extend state-of-the-art land-based and air-borne monitoring tools to
handle small fields with complex layouts and mixed crops.

To achieve this, we will: (i) develop and bring to the market an
affordable, multi-purpose, land-based robot, (ii) develop a weeding
app for this robot that is adapted for organic microfarms, (iii) apply
advanced 3D plant analysis and modelling techniques to in-field data
acquisition, (iv) integrate these analysis techniques in the robot for
detailed plant monitoring, (iv) integrate these techniques also in the
aerial drone N-E-R-O for multi-scale crop monitoring, (v) extend the
robot with novel, adaptive learning techniques to improve sensorimotor
control of the plant monitoring app, and (vii) test the effectiveness
of our solution in real-world field conditions.

ROMI is a collaboration between the following partners:

– Institute of Advanced Architecture of Catalonia (Iaac / FabLab Barcelona / Noumena)
– Sony Computer Science Laboratories Paris
– Institut national de recherche en informatique et en automatique (Inria)
– Centre national de la recherche scientifique (CNRS / ENS Lyon)
– Humboldt-Universität zu Berlin
– Pépinières Chatelain & Chatelain Maraîchage
– France Europe Innovation

This project has received funding from the European Union’s Horizon
2020 research and innovation programme under grant agreement No
773875.