RAPID robot will help farmers cope with both water and manpower shortages

  • 26 Apr
  • 2 min

The RAPID robot system is an automated irrigation tool that requires very little human intervention – two facets likely to be of great value in a place like California, which suffers from periodic droughts and where manpower is scarce and expensive.

Robots and drones are increasingly being used to make agricultural work easier. Nowadays there are weeding robots, precision spraying systems for weedkiller, robots to verify water quality and robots simply to automate repetitive tasks. The speciality of the portable Robot-Assisted Precision Irrigation Delivery (RAPID) tool is making sure that crops receive a sufficient quantity of water while avoiding over-watering and waste. When you consider that, according to the UN Food & Agriculture Organisation (FAO), 70% of all fresh water consumption in the world is used in the agricultural sector, this looks like a highly useful piece of technology.  It is even more important to cut down on water wastage in water-stressed regions – a category into which California sometimes falls. This explains why researchers at several universities in the Golden State are behind the RAPID project. 

Backed by a million-dollar grant from the US Department of Agriculture, a team of scientists led by Professor Stefano Carpin is currently testing out  a system mounted on a wheeled robot. The normal approach to irrigation today is that the system will deliver the same amount of water across an entire field, even though soil hydration and water retention may vary from strip to strip. Meanwhile nowadays data collected by drones or drawn from satellite pictures are able to provide much more fine-grained information, which the RAPID robot will be programmed to take on board and adjust the irrigation level accordingly.

The system is scheduled to be introduced in the vineyards of California before being extended to other types of crops. Eventually, RAPID may be used to help farmers all over the world to produce food more efficiently so as to feed a rapidly growing human population. United Nations forecasts suggest that there will be 9.8 billion people living on our planet by the year 2050.

By Sophia Qadiri