Cotton-picking electric robot could boost farm output by up to 20%

This new field robot developed by a Turkish cotton farmer is fully electric, fully autonomous, and could harvest as much as 20% more cotton from existing farms.

The Afara’s inventor claims that between 5 and 20% of cotton yields are left on the plants after the conventional self-propelled harvesters have left the field. Due to limitations “baked into” existing farm equipment, the plant density of the farms, and other factors, the only way left to harvest that leftover cotton is by hand – a grueling, labor-intensive, and expensive process.

Because of the costs involved and general shortage of farm labor, that cotton often ends up left in the field. The Afra’s inventor apparently took a good look at all that wasted cotton and thought, “there’s got to be a better way!”

That “better way” is the Afra, a fully electric cotton pick robot that’s equipped with 4 RGB-cameras, 2 LiDAR sensors, and a host of ultrasonic sensors used to detect leftover cotton, navigate obstacles, and otherwise do what the bigger harvesters – like the 35-ton John Deere CP770 – simply aren’t small enough to do. And, while that machine processes up to 12 rows of plants at a time, the Afara handles two rows, collecting up to 200 kg of cotton in its onboard container. Once full, the robot navigates to a pre-determined collection point, where human operators can unload it.

Afara farm robot prototype

Afara claims its cotton detection rate is fully 99.8 percent, with picking efficiency currently at 71% (of the “leftover” 20%), with a target picking efficiency rate at more than 90%.

The fully electric cotton pick machine runs on a li-ion battery that allows for up to 6 hours of autonomy. AC charging takes 6 to 7 hours (essentially overnight), while a projected DC fast charging model with 84 kW capability is expected to take less than 1.5 hours to recharge. Pricing is set to begin at around €120,000 for the cotton pick model, with a peanut harvesting model reportedly coming soon after.

Electrek’s Take

Despite the growing number of smaller, organic, and “hobby farms,” the overall number of new people coming into the ag industry is declining worldwide. Meanwhile, population growth (while slowing) is still very much a thing – and to feed those people, autonomous farming needs to happen. So does more efficient, more sustainable farming. This new electric farm robot from Afara ticks all those boxes.

Images via Afara.

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