Wine growers in California could turn to robots to help them deal with shortages of water and workers.
Researchers from the University of California have been working on a project to build a system for autonomous irrigation since 2016, and hope to have it in use on a farm by summer 2020.
Called Rapid (Robot-Assisted Precision Irrigation Delivery), the system uses water emitters attached to holes in irrigation lines between crops which control the amount of water discharged, while a small autonomous robot monitors the whole process.
The team behind it is in dialogue with farmers in the West Coast state – which has been hit by severe drought as well as a shortage of workers – to help hone the system to suit their needs.
The system is also exploring the possibility of fitting plastic caps to each emitter that could be turned and adjusted by a robotic arm and a “grasping hand” attached to the mobile bot.
Stefano Carpin, a professor of electrical engineering and computer science, told IEEE: “I’m a roboticist, so whenever there’s a problem, I study whether a robot could solve it.”
The research has been aided by a million dollar (£700,000) grant from the US Department of Agriculture.
The first prototype is expected to be ready for testing next year. Before then, the researchers will present their work at the International Conference on Robotics and Automation in Brisbane, Australia, at the end of May.