Flourish: robots for more productive and sustainable agriculture

Project researchers developed versatile robots to carry out a range of farming tasks.

The Flourish project built robots for precision farming for the collection of data about the soil, crops, pests, water levels and other factors, and which makes it possible to increase a farm’s yield while minimising the use of chemicals. The system created by this EU-funded project combines aerial robots with an unmanned ground vehicle. Together they survey fields from the air, intervene on the ground when needed (for example, by adding fertiliser in a precise area), and provide information to help farmers make better decisions. Until now, most farm robots were designed to perform specialist tasks.

The new Flourish system can be adapted with different components to carry out a range of farm management activities and monitor different crops. To date, researchers have tested it on sugar beet and sunflower crops.

The aerial robots developed by the project are equipped with a camera, sensors, GPS and statistical software. These enable them to distinguish between crops and weeds and scan crop characteristics such as height, canopy cover and chlorophyll levels. They can survey at least 10 hectares per hour, generating a map of the field they fly over, and advanced algorithms enable them to optimise their flight path. They send data to the ground vehicle, which autonomously navigates fields and uses image recognition technologies to classify plants. It measures their growth, nutritional condition and health status and, by selectively spraying individual plants and removing weeds, can reduce the use of herbicides and pesticides. It also acts as a mobile docking and charging station for the aerial robots.

At the end of the project, researchers then worked with farmers to check that the robots met their needs, and to ensure that the system was easy to set up and use, as well as being interoperable with other products on the market.