Agricultural robotics is the key to more sustainable and efficient farming. The agricultural sector is the second largest consumer of professional robotics after the army. It is therefore essential that the companies in the sector can build on and deepen their research on this subject. ACTIA is actively participating in this process, especially within the association RobAgri. This association is striving to fast-track the development of agricultural robots and their introduction into the market. It brings together the ecosystem to meet the new challenges of farmers, especially in terms of agro-ecology.
What is ACTIA’s contribution and how does the Group leverage its technological advantages in this agricultural robotics market?
ACTIA is an expert in all technological building blocks of agricultural robotics
The holistic vision of a complete equipment manufacturer
- Mobile robotics, and in particular agricultural robotics, can be viewed as the result of the integration of several technological sub-assemblies or building blocks:
- – vehicle architecture;
- – electric drive system;
- – on-board systems: supervision, guidance, control-command; safety;
- – intra- and inter-vehicle communication;
- – geolocation;
- – the development of specific functions tailored to various uses and acting autonomously: in relation to the terrain or to the user, etc.
As an expert in vehicle architecture, vehicle diagnostics and telematics, ACTIA has solid knowledge in each of these fields. The Group thus provides a holistic industrial vision and the viewpoint of an equipment manufacturer.
Active in leading automotive markets for over 35 years, ACTIA is able to create technological gateways from one market to another. The Group therefore has the capacity to adapt proven technological solutions in one of its traditional markets to an emerging market such as agricultural robotics.
ACTIA offers its expertise in cybersecurity of products and smart systems
ACTIA actively participates in the work on automotive cybersecurity regulations and standards. The aim is to incorporate the requirements set out in these texts into the company’s processes as they are developed. Their principles are intended for road vehicles, but can be applied to all on-board equipment, in the field of construction or agricultural vehicles, for example.
To learn more, read: How is ACTIA committed to the cybersecurity of its products?
The new ECUs integrate the AI needed for agricultural robotics.
A wide range of smart, autonomous sensors on board agricultural machines, drones or early robots helps to optimise knowledge of the needs of soil and plants and to meet these needs more effectively.
The increased use of these smart sensors also contributes to safety in the fields. Just like at a construction site, where machines and workers work together, an agricultural robot must be able to work close to farmers without posing a danger to them. This implies that robots must have the ability to detect moving objects and to make autonomous decisions.
Perception of the surrounding environment and automated decision-making are crucial to the safety of agricultural machinery. ACTIA is developing its latest generation of on-board ECUs capable of integrating AI technologies such as vision 360 or MOT. In a dedicated market, ACTIA has developed an intelligent system that can discern multiple moving targets, including people. This system finds multiple applications in public transport, construction equipment and of course in agriculture.
ACTIA is a founding member of RobAgri, an association that works for robotics for agriculture.
ACTIA’s contribution to the association This non-profit association was created in October 2017 and had 56 founding members, including ACTIA.
Its mission: fast-track the development of agricultural robots and their introduction into the market for manufacturers and start-ups in France.
Three years later, in 2020, it had 71 members representing:
- – research;
- – start-ups;
- – farmers;
- – manufacturers.
Being part of this unique and active ecosystem made up of members from all the players in agriculture has created significant opportunities for collaboration for ACTIA. Regular interactions with industry members strengthen the Group’s presence among the sector’s stakeholders and opens up avenues for collaboration on new products and services.
The Group’s signature areas in agricultural robotics are:
- – standardisation and development of standards;
- – artificial intelligence;
- – and cybersecurity of systems.
The mission of the association
The RobAgri cluster aims to structure and drive the development of the robotics sector in France and Europe and create conditions conducive to the emergence of a long-term market. The association seeks to achieve this by consolidating a coherent range of actions covering the necessary aspects: from structuring the sector, to support for training, R&D and innovation, to boosting the growth of innovative SMEs and mid-sized businesses (MSBs).
The association stands out in its ability to bring together small structures and large groups, public stakeholders and representatives of agricultural sectors (technical institutes, cooperatives, etc.).
RobAgri endeavours to remove technological, regulatory and usage barriers in the agricultural robotics industry.
- Represent the sector to the French authorities.
- Transfer technology – knowledge from research to industries.
- Meet the technological needs of farmers by anticipating changes in production methods.
- Evaluate machine performance against traditional methods.
- Participate in safety and certification standards.
The association is already carrying out numerous actions.
- It organises a scientific forum to promote knowledge transfer;
- It participates in the drafting of robotics standards, and in particular to the development of the Machinery Directive 2006/42/EC at EU level through its contribution, with AXEMA and CEMA (European Agricultural Machinery Industry), to the ISO 18497 standard on the safety of highly automated agricultural machines;
- It measures robot performance by setting up a robot test network. RobAgri is a partner of the European project agROBOfood and SolRob;
- It provides the French government with data to assist in decision-making, including the submission of a White Paper defining actions that are useful for the development of robotics.
Imprecise standardisation that needs further development: one of RobAgri’s focus areas
The introduction of fully automated machines into agriculture gives rise to new features, new uses and thus new risks. These risks need to be addressed in order to be in line with both the directive and the standards in force. Today, the standards and these new technologies are not always compatible. This is why manufacturers such as ACTIA are able to anticipate and reflect on future standards by participating in their definition.
The use of automated robots in farming therefore gives rise to safety issues. Although the sector is already regulated by a set of standards and regulations, the introduction of new technologies into these machines requires substantive standardisation work to be carried out jointly between manufacturers, industrialists, laboratories, farmers and public authorities.
In Europe, Machinery Directive 2006/42/EC is the reference when it comes to the regulation of equipment and machinery, including agricultural machines. It governs the main principles of operation and safety that manufacturers must comply with when designing their machinery.
This is the entire purpose of ROBAGRI. The association serves as an incubator of methods and proposals. The projects developed within the association have already given its members a common methodology for analysing the risks inherent in the design of an agricultural robot.
The introduction of robots into agriculture, as a new technology, must be done within a framework that is as safe as possible for the environment and the health and well-being of users, whose trust it must also win.
The challenges of an entire sector
Robotics provides solutions to well-known constraints in the agricultural world:
- – strenuous working conditions;
- – labour shortages;
- – yield optimisation;
- – responding to environmental pressures;
- – rationalising the working time of farmers who prefer to focus on high value-added tasks;
- – etc.
Human resources issues
- Protecting agricultural workers on a daily basis and reducing the strenuousness of tasks is a major concern in the agricultural sector. Manufacturers of automated solutions are working on solutions for:
- – milking;
- – weeding;
- – trimming;
- – spraying;
- – harvesting,
- – etc.
In particular, the automation of picking has begun, with strawberry-picking robots and prototypes for harvesting apples. At the same time, other robot designers are already thinking about load-bearing robots or even exoskeletons that increase the strength of humans to assist them in these tasks.
Robotics in agriculture is also a solution to the recurring shortage of skilled labour. A highly strenuous occupation is not attractive. Today, small automated assistants are helping farmers and farm workers by replacing them in repetitive and arduous tasks such as weeding or transporting crates and other heavy accessories.
Robotics: a driver of competitiveness
The development of robots for agriculture is a source of productivity. Given their autonomy, robots are used longer than humans and will therefore cover more plots.
By moving towards precision robots, it is possible to do just the required work (for farming, for example) and thus consume less energy. For example, the weeding robot can help mechanical weeding to become a more widespread practice, thus saving time.
- Agricultural robotics promotes environmentally responsible agriculture and helps farmers meet the environmental constraints of their land use.
- – By studying the nature of soil and its location, they are able to adapt the dosage of fertilisers and treatments, thus promoting a more reasoned use of plant protection products.
- – In addition, small and therefore less heavy robots protect agricultural soils from compaction and help promote natural irrigation.
- – Finally, with less power, they are suitable for the integration of renewable energy-based motorisation.
Robotics for agriculture is a major competitive challenge for the agricultural sector, for both farmers and manufacturers. It also addresses the environmental challenges of recent years, in particular the improvement of energy performance, the decreased use of inputs (water, fertiliser, plant protection products), and the preservation of agricultural soil.
Moreover, this market offers every chance for strong development that will begin in the short term. This is a great opportunity for ACTIA to grow in the highly specific market of robots. In many respects, ACTIA has the necessary strengths to implement projects and is thus able to contribute to the challenges of agricultural robotics.
- Points to remember
- ACTIA is preparing the architectures of tomorrow’s agro-equipment:
- – With its expertise in the technological building blocks essential for robotics for agriculture;
- – By integrating smart ECUs that manage AI functions into its systems;
- – Through its active role in the association RobAgri;
- – By participating in the standardisation of the sector;
- – By fully grasping the issues of an entire sector.