Introducing SynRobo: A Revolutionary Robot for Synecoculture
Synecoculture, a groundbreaking agricultural method endorsed by Dr. Masatoshi Funabashi of Sony Computer Science Laboratories, Inc. (Sony CSL), has gained traction in recent years. This technique involves growing a diverse range of plants in high density to foster biodiversity and take advantage of the ecosystem’s self-organizing capabilities. However, maintaining such dense vegetation requires constant attention, from sowing seeds to pruning weeds and harvesting crops. Unfortunately, most existing agricultural robots are limited to automating just one of these tasks in a simple farmland setting, making them ill-suited for Synecoculture. Additionally, these robots often inadvertently harm plants, hindering growth and diminishing yields.
The Birth of SynRobo: Redefining Synecoculture Farming
Recognizing the need to bridge this performance gap, a team of researchers led by Assistant Professor Takuya Otani from Waseda University, in collaboration with Sustainergy Company and Sony CSL, has developed an innovative solution: SynRobo. This robot is specially designed to excel at Synecoculture farming, enabling humans and machines to work together seamlessly. It efficiently manages a diverse array of mixed plants cultivated in the shade of solar panels, transforming an otherwise unused space. Their research on SynRobo was recently published in Volume 13, Issue 1 of Agriculture on December 21, 2022, in collaboration with Professor Atsuo Takanishi and other researchers from Waseda University, as well as students.
The Unique Features of SynRobo
Otani provides a brief overview of SynRobo’s design, highlighting its key attributes. The robot is equipped with a four-wheel mechanism that allows it to traverse uneven terrain effortlessly. Its robotic arm can expand and contract, enabling it to overcome obstacles and maneuver on slopes. The robot’s surroundings are monitored using a 360o camera, facilitating navigation. Additionally, SynRobo boasts a variety of farming tools, such as anchors for punching holes, pruning scissors, and harvesting setups. The robot adjusts its position using the robotic arm and a horizontally moving orthogonal axes table.
Efficient Seeding and User-Friendly Controls
In addition to these impressive features, the research team has developed techniques for efficient seeding. They have coated seeds from different plants with soil, creating uniformly-sized balls that allow the robot to sow seeds from multiple plants effortlessly. Furthermore, they have designed a user-friendly maneuvering system that enables operators to control the robot seamlessly. This system simplifies tool operation, automates the seeding process, and facilitates task switching.
Success in Dense Vegetation
Thanks to its small and flexible body, SynRobo excels at performing sowing, pruning, and harvesting tasks in dense vegetation while minimizing damage to the environment. The new maneuvering system enables the robot to avoid obstacles 50% more effectively and reduces its operating time by 49% compared to a simple controller.
The Future of Synecoculture and Sustainable Agriculture
Otani expresses his excitement about the potential applications of this agricultural robot, stating, “This research has yielded an agricultural robot that can thrive in environments with a diverse mixture of plant species. It can be adapted for general agriculture as well as Synecoculture, requiring only a change of tools when working with different plants. This innovation will enhance both yield per unit area and farming efficiency. Furthermore, the data gathered during agricultural operations will contribute to further automating the maneuvering system. As a result, robots could revolutionize agriculture across numerous environments.” Sustainergy Company is currently preparing to commercialize this innovation in abandoned fields in Japan, desertified areas in Kenya, and other locations.
These advancements represent a significant stride toward promoting Synecoculture farming, harnessing renewable energy sources, and addressing critical issues such as climate change and the energy crisis. The present research plays a vital role in achieving sustainable agriculture and carbon neutrality. Let us anticipate the advent of smart and adept robots that greatly support large-scale Synecoculture!