RobAgri Platform: a boost for agricultural robotics in France

© C. Tailleux/Irstea

The aim of the RobAgri project launched by Axema and Irstea is to bring together public and private agricultural machinery stakeholders in support of a structure that facilitates the design, certification and commercialization of innovative robots, thereby increasing France's influence in the robotics field. 

Reducing risks and drudgery, limiting inputs (water, fertilizer and phytosanitary products) and exposure to phytosanitary products and increasing productivity are some examples of the ways in which robotics allows us to rethink our agricultural practices to maximize production, environmental awareness and improved working conditions. While robots are commonly used in buildings, scientific and technological developments are still needed to adapt robots, aside from milking robots, to the constraints of open environments (ground variability, weather conditions) and the variety of tasks (sowing, harvesting, etc.). Furthermore, the lack of regulations and standards and a shortage of testing and assessment infrastructure hinder the development of agricultural robotics in France. What if the solution to faster innovation lay in combining the skills and resources of all stakeholders in the sector? This is the question asked by the RobAgri project. 

Enhancing the design, validation and distribution of future robots 

As a platform for exchange, RobAgri combines French public (research institutes, competitive clusters, etc.) and private (manufacturers, suppliers, etc.) stakeholders from the agricultural machinery sector in order to “encourage a collective dynamic to develop robotic systems, in accordance with the requirements of farmers and markets,” explains Michel Berducat, Deputy Director of the TSCF research unit at Irstea. The aim is to create a French sector that is competitive and creates jobs in the face of increasing competition. RobAgri is not there to create robots, but to design, identify and share tools, infrastructure and knowledge networks to allow its members to create, develop and influence the preparation of regulations and standards.

The Agricultural Robotics Techday[1] organized in September 2017 by the Directorate General for Enterprise (DGE) at the Ministry for the Economy and Financial Affairs in Paris, contributed to conveying and forging this aim.

The RobAgri association was created on October 20, 2017. Bringing together 37 - soon-to-be 48 - founding members, the group is the result of a full year’s work by laboratories, start-ups, SMEs, etc. led by Irstea and Axema, the trade association for the agricultural equipment industry[2].

The association’s initial activity has been structured around 4 soon-to-be launched Working Groups:

  • Implementing scientific and technical monitoring, initially by performing needs assessment for members and investigating methods and tools to collect, process and distribute information.
  • Identifying R&D projects and funding approaches, particularly by developing collaborative projects within specific consortia that bring together complementary participants.
  • Classifying and certifying performance, by helping to defining the type of tests performed to assess autonomy, robot safety, quality and precision of tasks, and by initiating a certification process for protocols, processes, test methods and participants.
  • Regulatory and normative expertise, by participating in standardization groups, contributing to ongoing discussions - particularly the ISO 18497 Safety of Highly Automated Agricultural Machines standard - and developing expertise in the evaluation of risk levels for autonomous machines, to support members.

To perform tests and evaluations on robots in various managed and reproducible conditions, the RobAgri association has its headquarters at Irstea's research and testing center in Montoldre. It will therefore be able to make use of the infrastructure and skills provided by the AgroTechnoPôle[3], a center for innovation in mobility, robotics, machine safety, digital technologies for agriculture and technologies for spreading machines, that is currently in development.

Irstea will carry out research set out by the RobAgri executive committee under the leadership of Yves Bigay, Vice President of the association and Director of Innovation and Value Creation at Irstea, and Roland Lenain, Scientific and Technical Board member and Research Director at Irstea, in order to bring together research and development of agricultural robotics at a national level.

For now, we invite you to the 2nd edition of the International Agricultural Robotics Forum, organized by Naïo Technologies on November 29-30, 2017 in Toulouse to find out the latest news from the association and meet its President, Jean-Michel Lebars of the KUHN group, and Roland Lenain.

RobAgri committee members:

From left to right, Vice President: Yves BIGAY, Director of Innovation and Value Creation, President: Jean-Michel LE BARS, Deputy Manager of the Electronics Department for Kuhn, Vice President: Michel-J DAMIANI, Marketing and Sales Manager for ACTIA-Automotive, Treasurer: Dominique BACHE, Managing Director of Vitibot.

For more information

[2] Research led by an executive committee comprising Michel Berducat, Deputy Director of the TSCF research unit at Irstea, Roland Lenain, Irstea Research Director, Guillaume Bocquet, Manager of the Axema technical hub and Alain Savary, Managing Director of Axema

[3] Located in Auvergne-Rhône-Alpes