The more that farmers know about the exact state of their crops, the less they have to indiscriminately apply fertilizer, pesticide or even water. That's part of the thinking behind the Thorvald agricultural robotic platform, which was first developed at the Norwegian University of Life Sciences. It recently made the trip to the University of Lincoln in the UK, where scientists are now making it into even more of a farmer's helper.
The robot is currently operated by radio remote control, and is said to be easily able to traverse uneven terrain – this is due to the fact that its flexible frame allows all four wheels to constantly stay in contact with the ground. It can reportedly run for up to 10 hours on one charge of its batteries.
The Lincoln team, however, plan on outfitting it with sensors and software that will allow it to roam up and down fields autonomously, its four-wheel steering letting it deftly move between rows without harming the plants.
As it does so, it will use a COSMOS (COsmic-ray Soil Moisture Observing System) sensor to precisely measure soil moisture. That data will be used to create a high-resolution grid map of the field, showing moisture distribution. Upon analyzing that map, farmers will know which areas need water the most.
The robot could also be equipped with sensors to measure other parameters of soil and crop quality, along with tools that would allow it to perform tasks like seeding, weeding and spraying.