MARS, the robot system for planting and accurate documentation, has won the AGRITECHNICA Innovation Award in silver. Three years ago, AGCO/Fendt and Hochschule Ulm launched the ECHORD++ MARS experiment (Mobile Agricultural Robot Swarms). The project has developed a robot system for high-precision planting, which has now been tested in the field. Now, MARS has won the silver Innovation Award of AGRITECHNICA 2017, one of the the leading trade fairs for agricultural machinery
MARS uses small robots operating in swarms and a cloud-based solution to plan, monitor and accurately document precise planting of corn. Satellite navigation and data management in the cloud allows operations to be conducted round the clock, with permanent access to all data. The position and planting time of each seed is accurately recorded. Knowing exactly where the seed has been planted opens up new potential for the rest of the process, since subsequent operations over the plant cycle, such as protecting or fertilising plants, can be performed precisely according to the individual plant.
Planning for the required field, for seeds, seed patterns and density is carried out via the MARS app. The intelligent OptiVisor algorithm plans the robot’s deployment based on the entered parameters, and calculates the optimal paths for the units involved and the time required for completion of the job. Software updates for the system can be loaded “over the air”, just as a remote diagnostic can be run conveniently and in any location via the smart device.
A key element of the MARS project is intelligent management of the deployed robots. A MARS system consists of some 6–12 units and can therefore cover around 1 ha/h. Each robot is in constant communication with the controller. Data buffering and redundant communication helps cover breaks in network coverage. If a robot fails, the paths of all units are automatically re-optimised, and the remaining robots take over. You can also plant a mixed crop in the field, since each robot can be filled with different seeds.
Thanks to the battery-operated, electrical motor (approx. 400 W), the low weight (approx. 50 kg), and the autonomous operation, planting can continue round the clock, 7 days a week, even in conditions which conventional machines find difficult, e.g. due to the state of the ground or noise emissions. This increases the productivity and flexibility of the system. In relation to the large tyres, the ground pressure is almost negligible (approx. 200 g/cm²).
The robots need around 70% less energy to do the same work, and accordingly produce less CO2 when doing it. Since neither diesel nor oil is required to operate the robots, there is no leakage and there are no local emissions.
The robots are easy to mechanically assemble, do not use complex sensors, and are therefore highly robust. Their small size and light weight makes maintenance easier, and means that the system is intrinsically safe.
The latest version of the MARS robots will be unveiled to the public for the first time at AGRITECHNICA 2017, the primary target audience being service providers in regions concentrating on ambitious projects, and innovative operations focusing on precision farming.
Promising enquiries have already been received from Germany, Australia, United Kingdom, Switzerland, Netherlands and Africa. Interested parties will have the opportunity to acquire one of the first systems. All customers are individually assessed and will first receive a business and location-specific consultation to see whether the MARS system is right for them.