The future of farming was unveiled at Emerald on Tuesday with a swarm of autonomous robots working cooperatively under commercial conditions in a world-first demonstration by SwarmFarm Robotics.
The startup agricultural robotics company launched its new SwarmBot 3.0 machines at an official event in Gindie with over 300 people in attendance.
Attendees included federal Assistant Minister for Innovation Wyatt Roy, federal Minister for Northern Australia Matthew Canavan and representatives from SwarmFarm sponsors Adama, Westpac, Elders, Fitzroy Basin Association, Central Highlands Regional Council and Telstra.
Following years of research, innovation and refinement, Tuesday’s demonstration included three robots working cooperatively to spray weeds on a wheat farm at Gindie.
SwarmFarm CEO Andrew Bate said the launch of the new robots meant the concept of multiple robots working together had progressed from a dream into a commercial reality.
“We’ve been on the most amazing journey to go from concept to a university project to startup and now to today’s launch event,” Mr Bate said.
“We’ve put in the hard work over a number of years to get where we are today and we’re so excited to finally reach this commercial launch stage.
“Our launch featured swarms of autonomous, collision-avoiding robots that will ultimately allow us as farmers to provide each plant with individual attention as someone would in their home vegetable garden.
“In this new world the machines will have the time to undertake tasks, slowly, carefully and with great precision.
“Planting, applying fertiliser precisely and economically, eliminating weeds and insects and harvesting the crop means higher yields, lower costs, cleaner and greener food.
“It’s also hugely beneficial for the environment and the Great Barrier Reef with improved protection of soils and waterways.”
Adama Australia’s Digital Innovation Manager Alex Mills said the company committed to a partnership with SwarmFarm Robotics to deliver innovative solutions to the agricultural industry.
“SwarmFarm’s technology will help to improve the productivity of current farming systems by offering small, lightweight, high-tech robotic machines that will operate in swarms to undertake key tasks of cropping systems, such as planting, weed control, insect control, fertiliser application, irrigation and harvesting,” Mr Mills said.
“Adama will utilise the SwarmFarm technology to assess unique crop protection formulations and innovative use patterns to help deliver new simplified solutions around resistant weeds, labour, application timing and efficacy.
“With SwarmFarm we will rethink the way crop protection is applied in today’s farming system. SwarmFarm has the potential to deliver greater simplicity to farmers not only in Australia but across all developed and emerging markets around the world.”
Westpac Agribusiness General Manager Steve Hannan said the launch showed that SwarmFarm Robotics is a leader in robotic technology for the farming sector.
“Westpac Agribusiness is committed to supporting innovation and technology to advance the way farmers do business and we’re particularly excited to partner with a regional Australian company that is leading the way in farming innovation,” Mr Hannan said.
“Swarm Farm’s technology offers incredible potential for farmers to increase yields, reduce labour costs, more effectively use inputs and significantly improve capital productivity. It also offers exciting benefits in terms of reduced environmental impacts of agriculture.
“Westpac is looking forward to working closely with Swarm Farm to help introduce this exciting technology to our agribusiness customers, as well as continuing to support Andrew and Jocie as their business grows.”
Elders National Technical Services Manager Graham Page said developments like this explained why Elders was delighted to form a partnership with SwarmFarm Robotics.
“This technology may prove to be the next big thing for our cropping clients, so we want to be involved from an early stage,” Mr Page said.
“What also appeals to us at Elders is that Andrew and Jocie Bate are farmers who understand the practicalities of farming, which gives us confidence that any new technology their company develops will be fit for purpose and tested under rigorous field and climatic conditions.”
Fitzroy Basin Association Chief Executive Officer Paul Birch said the precision herbicide application allows individual weeds to be targeted and significantly reduces run-off into local waterways.
“FBA has been extremely proud to be associated with this project since 2010; it is a shining example of innovation in Australian agriculture and showcases that central Queensland landholders are looking to work smarter for sustainable businesses and a better environment,” Mr Birch said.
“The FBA Board established an Innovations Fund in 2010 to support innovative practices in agriculture and the Bate family were recipients of this funding in the early stages of their robotic development.
“Reduced herbicide application and reduced traffic on grain paddocks means less soil disturbance and ultimately less run-off, which results in reduced costs for the farmer as well as huge benefits for our waterways and the Great Barrier Reef.”
Central Highlands Regional Council mayor Cr Peter Maguire said the entire region congratulated the team at SwarmFarm Robotics on today’s launch.
“SwarmFarm is a great initiative and we congratulate all those involved on their diligent work to date,” Cr Maguire said.
“What’s really terrific is that this truly innovative product is shining a spotlight on the Central Highlands region, which can only be good for our reputation as an agribusiness centre.
“SwarmFarm is exactly the type of business that the council targeted its development incentive policy towards and we’re pleased that it’s provided a tangible benefit in order to get this initiative launched.”
Telstra regional general manager Queensland Jason Law said Telstra was excited to partner with the Central Highlands Regional Council in sponsoring SwarmFarm.
“The CHRC has always been an early adopter of new technology and the partnership with Telstra over the years looks to continue with our involvement with SwarmFarm,” Mr Law said.
“Telstra has been involved with many local technologies that have gone global and we believe SwarmFarm will be the next one to achieve this.