The research and advanced engineering department of AGCO/Fendt has revealed the latest version of its ‘Xaver’ seed sowing robot, following extensive field testing and a complete system overhaul, which sees a switch from four to three wheels and the addition of a new, embedded ‘vSet’ seed unit from Precision Planting to ensure quick and accurate seed spacing.
With the help of an electrically driven control system, the vSet seed unit deposits individual grains with pinpoint accuracy at a pre-defined distance in the row. The grains are dropped in the furrow by a flexible firmer. The company is now working on adding Precision Planting’s ‘Smart Firmer’ technology to future robots – with sensors measuring soil moisture, temperature, humus content and plant residues. This varies the seed depth and seed strength according to local conditions.
Why three wheels?
The most obvious difference with the latest Xaver model is the design switch from four to three wheels, with the last wheel driving the robot, as well as acting as a gauge wheel. When it passes over the field, it compacts the soil gently to the side and above the seed, closing the soil around the seed grain to ensure the moisture supply and initiate germination.
Larger wheels offer increased ground contact, greater ground clearance and more precise depth guidance. At just two metres, the new Fendt Xaver requires hardly any space when turning and the rear steering and all-wheel-drive (AWD) mean it can perform the process efficiently, even on soft ground.
As well as being quieter, added wheel weights in the front wheels also mean a greater coulter pressure for sowing in loamy soils. Fully ballasted, the robot reaches a maximum total weight of 250kg, while it is less than 150kg unladen.
Meanwhile, seed tank capacity has been extended to 20 litres – enough for around 0.5ha at 90,000 grains/ha; and the capacity of the lithium-ion battery has been increased to 2.6kWh. The company claims Xaver can now work for about 1.5 hours before it needs to return to the base station for charging.
AGCO/Fendt claims a swarm of six robot units achieves an area coverage of around 3ha/h including loading times of around 2 ha/h. It also says the system enables round-the-clock, autonomous use.
Xaver is also equipped with the VarioGuide lane guidance system, which controls the robot with centimetre-accuracy. Fendt Xaver is also integrated into the FendtONE platform, and can be managed together with the rest of the machine fleet. This allows a seamless exchange of field data, including waylines, between tractor and robot as well as between robot and database, making light work of creating job orders.
The seed sowing robots use the Fendt Xaver Cloud to receive commands and return their status reports. The system is web-based and managed independently in the Xaver app. Farmers or contractors can access the entire fleet or individual robots in the field on a tablet or from an office-based PC. The app itself can also be opened from the FendtONE portal.
An antidote to heavy machinery
AGCO/Fendt says the aim of its robotics research is to provide an intelligent, low impact and powerful alternative to the continuous trend of ever-heavier large machines. Heavy machinery causes damage, it points out, especially on softer or wetter ground, which can cause a loss of yield and shortens field work days.
Consumers expect sustainable, organically produced food with less or zero use of pesticides. This is currently only possible with a lot of manual, human labour. Robots can take on these monotonous, physically strenuous tasks. The basis for this, regardless of the specific fruit species, is precision sowing, according to the company, as it makes follow-up work, such as hoeing, much easier and allows farmers to monitor and maintain quality.
It should also be noted that the seed sowing robots have no air pollutants or noise emissions, nor can they leak oil. Overall, ground pressure is up to 80% lower than with conventional machine systems.
“Through Precision Planting, we have been able to draw on the AGCO Group’s agronomy expertise and proven technology to produce our seed sowing robots,” explained Dr. Benno Pichlmaier, director of global technology and innovation, AGCO/Fendt. “We were able to adapt the modules of the first Xaver generation and combine them with the new seed unit. Proven concepts have been combined with the innovative robotics design, which has led to a new, integrated system.”
“The cornerstones of our swarm system are scalability in terms of investment costs and impact, minimising failure risks from robot redundancy, and integrating autonomy and precision farming,” he continued. “After sowing with the Xaver, it ‘maps’ all the useful crops in the field, and we can use this for all our follow-up work, such as plant protection, mechanical weed control and fertilisation. Regardless of whether this is done by robots or tractors. The prerequisite for swarm technology is a reliable network coverage for communication. Going forward, we will use the imminent implementation of the digital strategy with a 5G network expansion in Germany and worldwide. The robots will feature future Farming 4.0 functions even with larger and more dynamic data volumes.”
“The energy costs and, with that, the CO2 footprint is significantly lower compared to conventional technology, when you use a Xaver. This is due both to the negligible pressure impact on the field from the low weight, and the potential lack of consumers like air-con and power steering, as there’s no driver sat in the machine. Last but not least, the efficient and simple direct electric drive helps in this respect.”