A few years ago, we started asking if the farm equipment industry was on the verge of a David vs. Goliath moment. That is, advances in automation could have the potential to reverse a 50-year-long trend of tractors getting bigger and heavier – by about 900 lb. each year, by some estimates.
The case for a small autonomous fleet is they could perform tasks 24/7 to make up for their relatively small stature, and they would majorly alleviate compaction concerns brought on by modern heavy farm equipment.
Several prototypes of all shapes and sizes have been floating around for the past several years. One that seems to keep garnering industry buzz is the Rowbot, which only stands 3’ tall and carries a 40-gal. fertilizer payload. As its name suggests, it is compact enough to move between two rows of corn, where it is able to deliver timely nitrogen applications, seed cover crops or any number of tasks.
“We wanted to help farmers figure out how to manage nitrogen better in their corn crops, and hopefully make them money in the process,” creator Kent Cavender-Bares recently told WinField ag technology applications lead Joel Wipperfurth in a recent interview.
Ideally, Cavender-Bares says the Rowbot would be best deployed in fleets of 10 or 20 machines that could navigate up to five fields at a time.
Rowbot even guest-starred in a Beck’s Practical Farm Research trial last fall.
“They wanted to compare results from a simulated aerial application, seeding with a drill after corn harvest, and a high-quality broadcast seeding by our Rowbot platform,” Cavendar-Bares says.
Will the Rowbot be the next big little thing in the agriculture industry? It’s anyone’s guess, but as Wipperfurth recommends, “Keep an eye out for autonomous bots. They may be coming soon to a farm near you — perhaps even your own.”