Agriculture: robots in the fields

Today, farmers are facing new challenges, such as remaining competitive while protecting people and the environment. Research, however, is providing new technological opportunities (sensors, robotics, data, etc.) to meet these challenges. Scientists are in a position to help farmers increase and improve their production. Robotics is one answer. Smaller and lighter in addition to being more precise and efficient, robots can help farmers and work outdoors (except in confined spaces such as greenhouses) while making less of an impact on the environment.


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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.

Publication of the Springer Handbook of Robotics, to which Irstea contributed

An authoritative repository of global knowledge of robotics, the 2nd edition of the Springer Handbook of Robotics has been published. The new edition has been enhanced with videos and new chapters, to which Roland Lenain, Irstea researcher specializing in agricultural robotics, has contributed.

Logistical support robots to help farmers


Can productivity be improved while reducing the drudgery of harvesting procedures? In an era of collaborative robots, we are focusing on "robot mules". The Baudet-Rob project, launched in 2011, quickly gave life to a variety of prototypes tested in real conditions that are now commercialized.


Information-gathering robots to help farmers make decisions


Monitoring pastures with a mobile robot

© I-LEED Project

The European i-LEED project aims to optimize the feed process for dairy cows through the innovative management of rationed pastures. A mobile robot is responsible for measuring the quality and quantity of grazing pasture in each plot so that, using information such as animal weight and quantity of milk produced, it is possible to help farmers adjust and move the animals. Data is transmitted to user devices in real time through the I-Leed software.

More specifically, Irstea researchers are working on planning robot trajectories across plots as well as developing control laws to ensure robots move in a safe and precise manner across pasture areas. A demonstrator will be unveiled between 2018-2019.

Partners: LFL, Ege, Irstea, DSP-Agrosoft and Effidence.

A robot capable of mapping the volume of plants that need to be treated before spraying

At Montpellier and Clermont Ferrand, Irstea teams are developing a robot capable of recording the areas that need to be treated within vine rows, using 3D or Lidar cameras.

The AdAP2E project (Irstea project) will be used to create a robot capable of treating vines and performing other tasks within the plots. It could therefore include a variety of instant and global criteria using maps of plant zones to be treated and would be capable of avoiding over- or under-dosing. The aim is definitely to help farmers, especially wine growers, plan spraying and monitoring in real time as well as geographically.

The project was presented to the public at the 2016 International Agricultural Show.

© Irstea


Maintenance robots to perform agro-environmental tasks


Combining safety, environmental awareness and productivity, a new project has just been launched. Its aim is to develop a robotic solution dedicated to mechanical weeding in vegetable crops.


Composite drawing by a PhD candidate

Thibault is a PhD candidate at the Clermont-Ferrand center and is completing his thesis as part of the PUMAgri project. He also participated in Robots in the Fields, an event at the International Agricultural Show in 2016. Click on the image to open the video


Sowing, mowing, muck spreading, spraying: coordinated robots

German mowing robot prototype - i-LEED © Irstea / Ch. Cariou

[i-LEED project continued - see above] Based on information collected by the first robot on the quality and quantity of grass in pastures, a second robot will be responsible for maintaining the pastures. Any identified "refusal zones" (where the grass measures less than 10cm or more than 25cm or areas dirtied by a significant number of cow pies) will be treated. Sewing, mowing and even muck spreading are the three main tasks for this second robot.


[AdAP2E project continued - see above] The project will enable the creation of a robot able to treat vines. The robot will also have to mow between the rows or spray above the rows, using various working speeds. It will also work on paths to support infrastructure (farm, truck, etc.).

Robots will work in a coordinated manner, with one recording data and the other performing the tasks.


Robots in convoy, operating in partnership with a driven machine

© Irstea / C. Tailleux

Researchers are exploring an even more cutting-edge concept: replacing heavy agricultural equipment with a fleet of medium-sized machines driving in an autonomous convoy.


[Video] A Demonstration of field robotics!

Interviews with Emmanuel Hugo, regional director of the Clermont-Ferrand center and Michel Berducat, deputy director of the TSCF research unit responsible for value creation and industrial partners.


Review: Irstea, a robot story

From milking cows to picking fruit and even onboard intelligence-based systems, there are many approaches to agricultural robotics, but all are focused on the idea of helping farmers perform their daily tasks. Find out more about over 30 years of innovation and 3 emblematic robots in pictures and videos.

Source: CNEEMA 1980

1979 - The plowing robot

In the 1980s, the plowing robot, one of the first French agricultural robots, was created in an Irstea laboratory.

Plowing techniques have improved over time, but combining tractors and plows remain a complex process. Irstea's innovation was to create a shuttle plow with reversible plowshares. Optional extras included a guidance system, load transfer, sensors, etc., making it possible to adapt the power and automation according to the tasks being performed. The plow is therefore completely autonomous.

© Irstea

1987 - The milking robot

In agriculture, initial mechanization efforts focused on milk harvesting, a tedious daily task. Attaching the teat cups was the only element left to automate. Irstea got to work and developed an automated cubicle, equipped with sensors and teat cups fixed to articulated arms. The device was quickly transferred to manufacturers and has been widely adopted. Video.

1986-1991 - The picking robot

In the 1980s, fruit picking was an almost entirely manual process. However, automation was booming. Irstea's innovation was to create the Magali robot with a camera to detect the fruit and an articulated arm to make picking easier. The autonomous vehicle also had to be able to navigate through orchards and between hedges. For farmers, it was a guarantee of (undamaged) fruit adapted to the fresh produce market. Although tests at the time were performed in partnership with a manufacturer, the device was not commercialized. The main reason for this was an excessively high price. However today, the situation seems to have reversed and there is a growing demand. Video.