New EU project Robs4Crops accelerates shift towards robotics

From farming controllers and smart implements to fully autonomous farming systems, Robs4Crops (a new project) is helping farmers fill labour shortages — shaking up the farming landscape.

The Robs4Crops project will accelerate the shift towards the large-scale implementation of robotics and automation in European farming. With a €7.9 million budget funded by the European Union, the project represents a high-tech revolution with tremendous potential impact on productivity, efficiency, and environmental sustainability. Robs4Crops will demonstrate that robotics and related technologies bring precision and feasibility to mundane, repetitive tasks, reducing the need for people to engage in work that is unpleasant, unhealthy, and requires zero thought. The project started on 1 January 2021 and will run for four years.

A Time for Change in Changing Times
The main challenge in European agriculture is a shortage of labour. While labour costs put pressure on how profitable agriculture can be, the COVID-19 pandemic shows that scarcity of labour is even more significant and can jeopardise the how the food chain functions — from farm to fork. Growers across Europe are reporting a shortage of workers. Fields of fruit and vegetables were not harvested because thousands of seasonal workers were unable to travel to work due to the virus.

From Stand-Alone Units to a Complete Robotic System
As a result of the coronavirus, there is now heavy investment in robotics and automation in agriculture, which marks the beginning of a structural change in the agrifood sector. At the moment, robotics is still only used sparingly in agriculture on a commercial basis. From a technical point of view, agricultural robots are not yet reaching their potential because they are used as stand-alone units rather than as part of a complete, innovative robotic system. From a non-technical point of view, there is not much of a place for agricultural robots in current farming practices and they are not supported by a network.

Smart Implements, Autonomous Vehicles, and Farming Controller
Robs4Crops will address technical challenges by creating a robotic farming solution consisting of three elements: smart implements, autonomous vehicles, and the farming controller. Existing agricultural machinery and tractors will be upgraded so that, together with existing agricultural robots, they can function as parts of a robotic system. Development and testing will take place in practice, under real operating conditions, in four countries, and in close collaboration with stakeholders.

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