It may look like a demented spider, but this Prospero prototype is what’s known as an autonomous micro planter. It is designed to be deployed as a group or “swarm” and can walk in any direction while avoiding objects with its dual ultrasonic sensors and without turning its body.
An underbody sensor array lets the robot know if a seed has been planted in the area at the right spacing and depth. It can then dig a hole, plant a seed, cover the seed with soil and apply any pre-emergence fertilisers and herbicides. It can also tell other robots in the immediate area that it needs help planting or that an area has been planted and to move on.
Workrate is no doubt somewhat modest compared to a 6m Vaderstad thundering along behind a Challenger or big John Deere. However, the researchers point out that while current technology allows one man to plant several hundred acres in a day, it does come at the cost of crop productivity because all those acres are treated the same.In contrast, a swarm of small Prospero robots would have the ability to farm inch by inch, examining the soil before planting each seed and choosing the best variety for that spot.