Efficiency in Fields and Meadows: Autonomous Labor thanks to Precise Positioning

17.05.2022 by Daniel Kunz
Cultivated field from agriculture.

Field work and lawn mowing have more in common than working in the open air. Both are time-consuming, often monotonous and physically demanding, but they can also be automated by means of IoT and precise positioning.

Green, lush and about 30 to 50 mm high is how many people visualize the perfect lawn. But keeping the grass at this constant height takes time and is hard work, especially when it involves several hundred or even thousand square meters, as on golf courses, in parks or in green spaces. Automatic or robot lawnmowers can take over the task from human operatives, but they often have disadvantages of their own. As a rule, wires have to be laid in the ground so that the autonomous machines know where to work, and most robots will not mow in a clear pattern any more than robot vacuum cleaners do in the home – with the result that the lawn can look uneven or untidy. And in especially large areas conventional models come up against their limits and can only mow around 7,000 square meters per week. That is mainly because they do not follow a clear pattern and therefore work inefficiently. The Scottish company Kingdom Technologies has developed a solution to these challenges for its robot mowers, a solution that relies on the precise positioning technology of Telekom and its partner Swift Navigation.

From Satellite to Lawn

The Kingdom Technologies robot mower can mow up to 70,000 square meters of lawn in a week, using movement patterns modeled on those of humans. As a result it does not mow some areas twice and miss others out entirely. Boundary wires do not need to be laid. Instead, work areas can be comfortably defined by using a Web app. The autonomous robot relies on satellite navigation to ensure that it always knows where it is going, and that is where precise positioning plays a crucial role.

To test the performance of the technology the company fitted out some of its robots with a standard Global Navigation Satellite System (GNNS) receiver and others with precise positioning technology. GNSS is a collective term and includes inter alia GPS and Galileo, the satellite navigation system of the European Union. In a first experiment the autonomous helpers had to follow a predefined path, in a second to head for the charging point. Precise positioning technology proved superior: using a standard GNSS signal the robot deviated from its predefined path by up to half a meter; using the Telekom and Swift solution the deviation was less than five centimeters. Docking at the charging point was much more precise too.

More Than Just a GNSS Receiver

The secret of precise positioning’s success is kturdienst Swift Navigation’s Skylark correction service. It uses hundreds of measuring stations spread around three continents to calculate errors in GNSS satellite navigation. This information is sent to the autonomous device’s receiver via the Internet of Things (IoT) and the mobile network. The system conflates it with the GNSS receiver’s normal position data and calculates its absolute position. This principle enables an especially high level of precision to be achieved. Classic GNSS is accurate to within three to five meters, whereas the Skylark correction data facilitates precise positioning to within four centimeters. Kingdom Technologies customers benefit from IoT technology in more than one way. First, they will always enjoy the view of a perfectly trimmed lawn. Second, they will save time because they no longer need to lay boundary wires and can focus on more important tasks.

When the Tractor Can Stay in the Barn

Precise positioning can also facilitate autonomous work in farming and thereby increase efficiency. The German startup AI.Land in Kempen, North Rhine-Westphalia, has developed and manufactures the field robot ETAROB. It solves many challenges that farmers face today, such as increasingly large areas that must be worked on or an increasing shortage of farm workers. ETAROB automates and digitizes many tiring, strenuous or cost-intensive jobs like harvesting vegetables or sowing seedlings. Artificial intelligence even recognizes details such as weeds automatically so that the machine can remove them systematically.

To ensure that the idea of smart farming, or digitized agriculture, is not stuck in the mud, ETAROB needs exact navigation. Precise positioning delivers it with its combination of GNSS data and Skylark correction signaling. Together with artificial intelligence the autonomous farming machine tills the field reliably.

Farming More Efficiently and Sustainably

The precision of precise positioning ensures that AI.Land robots operate in the exact area required, and as they are available in different configurations for different requirements agricultural enterprises can do more work of the most varied kinds with less labor, increasing efficiency and profitability in equal measure.

And it is not just a matter of people needing to work less in fields and meadows. Battery-powered robots like ETAROB – and Kingdom Technologies’ robot mowers – can also make a contribution to sustainability. They certainly make the use of tractors or other vehicles with combustion engines superfluous in many instances.


 

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Daniel Kunz
Daniel Kunz

Expert Digital Marketing

Digitization and the Internet of Things are among the favourite topics of Daniel Kunz. He has been with Deutsche Telekom since 2017 and regularly writes about technology trends and many exciting topics, especially for the retail trade and the logistics industry.