Solinftec, a Brazil-based ag-tech company with operations in West Lafayette, is testing a new robot designed to roam agricultural fields and gather real-time data farmers can use to improve their operations.
Solinftec is partnering with Bloomington, Illinois-based agricultural cooperative GROWMARK Inc. to do pilot testing during the 2022 growing season, with the goal of making the robots commercially available in the U.S. next year. The companies made the announcement at the World Agri-Tech Innovation Summit, held earlier this week in San Francisco.
The robot, which looks like a table on wheels, works with Solinftec’s existing technology platform, called ALICE. The robot is designed to continuously roll up and down the rows of a field, using ALICE to scan for things like crop health and nutrition, insects and weeds.
“The whole idea is to scan the fields to provide more information to agronomists and farmers,” said Daniel Padrao, Solinftec’s West Lafayette-based chief operating officer. With that information, farmers might discover early signs of a plant disease or pest problem that they can address before things get out of hand.
Currently, farmers must manually scan their fields using ALICE—perhaps by mounting the technology in a tractor and driving through a field. They typically scan just a portion of their fields because of the labor involved in scanning the entire property. And that means that the farmers might miss something important, Padrao said.
But the robot, Padrao said, allows farmers to scan their fields day and night without human involvement. The solar-powered robots are designed to run continuously all through the growing season, delivering a continuous stream of real-time information.
Solinftec was founded in 2007 and has about 800 employees worldwide, including about 20 in West Lafayette and another 25 or so elsewhere in the U.S. The company operates in 11 countries, and its technology is used to manage 11 million acres of farmland.
The ALICE platform launched in Brazil 15 years ago, and Solinftec says the technology is now used to monitor more than 80% of the sugarcane operations in that country.
The company came to West Lafayette in 2019 to launch ALICE in the U.S. market, where the focus will be on corn and soybean farming.
Solinftec plans to launch its new robot in Brazil in May.
And Solinftec and GROWMARK will work to adapt the robot and the business model to the U.S. market. They’ve identified a farmer in Bloomington, Illinois who will field-test the robot this season, and human spotters who will verify the accuracy of the data collected in the field.
The two companies will also work together to refine the business model for the U.S. market—whether growers will buy or lease the robot, for instance.
Solinftec and GROWMARK have been working together for the past three years or so on product development and technology testing.