Science

[Interview] Claude Juriens, Ecorobotix – “Our ultra-localized spraying technology provides plant-by-plant protection”

Succeed Machinism – Ecorobotix is ​​best known for its Avo weeding robot. Why did you choose to develop a sprayer hitched to a tractor?

Claude Juriens – “The Avo robot has demonstrated our know-how in detection by image analysis and localized spraying, but the agricultural robotics market is still in its infancy. European legislation is far from being ready. We do not know when it will be possible to let a robot work alone in the fields. Currently, either an exemption or physical barriers are required around the plot. We also realized that to achieve complete autonomy of the robot, it was essential to deploy significant technical resources, requiring heavy investments. But it is also and above all observations from the field that guided our decision to develop a sprayer to be hitched to the tractor. The level of farmer acceptance for our highly innovative technology is higher with a tool that is more familiar and easier to get started, compared to the robot. The mounted device also allows a better return on investment, thanks to its much higher work rate., including taking into account the additional costs associated with the use of the tractor and a driver. “

RM – What are the common technologies between the Avo robot and the Ara sprayer?

CJ – “When we decided in August 2020 to develop this device, it took us only three weeks to adapt the technology on the robot to the sprayer boom. The first prototype saw the light of day in December and by March 2021 we had produced 8 Ara sprayers. This 6-meter-wide device has three parts, two of which can be folded up. Each element integrates, under a fairing, two cameras each analyzing a square meter of surface 20 times per second. Nozzles placed on a ramp every 4 cm can target an area 8 cm wide by 3 cm long, when they are placed 15 cm from the ground and the speed reaches 7 km / h. Their opening / closing is managed by solenoid valves with a delay of 10 milliseconds. The challenge was to keep the pressure constant in the spraying circuit. The work rate can reach 4 hectares per hour. The camera works day and night, thanks to the fairing and the use of very powerful flashes ensuring detection quality independent of light conditions. The fairing also limits the risk of drifting. “

Read also: Ecorobotix – A very high precision mounted sprayer

RM – How are you organized for the production of this worn device?

CJ – “We have concentrated our resources on the design and development of algorithms. For industrialization, we call on subcontractors,” entire device being assembled in Switzerland. We only used a market solution for the tank and pump part mounted on the tractor linkage. We work in parallel with a French partner to integrate a direct injection system in the future, simplifying the preparation phase of the porridge. For the moment, the user has a 500-liter clear water tank and a 150-liter working tank in which he mixes his porridge. In practice, he prepares a certain quantity to start his work and after having treated a representative surface, the system indicates an estimate of the product consumption, allowing him to then adjust his volume of mixture. “

RM – What are the treatment applications that enhance the precision of this sprayer?

CJ – “Our device is much more accurate than camera systems mounted on a standard spray boom. The number of cameras (one per meter) and the proximity of the nozzles allow us to protect plant by plant. Our technology has already proven its worth in weeding beets and beans. By targeting only weeds, it is possible to reduce the amount of herbicide used by up to 95%. We have also validated its efficacy for the treatment of rumex in meadows. We are also going to work with the Limousin Chamber of Agriculture on the treatment of rumex and thistles. New algorithms are under development and some are ready to be tested for several crops: soya, corn, onions, endives, spinach, salads, rapeseed. The Loiret chamber of agriculture and several cooperatives (Tereos, Eureden, Bonduelle, etc.) will be involved in the test phases. In order to make the sprayer as profitable as possible, it is also intended to be used for fungicide or insecticide treatments, this time targeting only cultivated plants, again with a drastic reduction in the quantity of phytos used. “

RM – Will the Ara sprayer soon be marketed in France?

CJ – “Five machines have already been sold in Switzerland to farmers or entrepreneurs. In France, we want to continue demonstrations and tests, before opening the first orders at the end of the year for the first deliveries in early 2022. At the same time, we are working on building a distribution network, targeting a small number of dealers capable of providing technical follow-up. The price of the device will be around 80,000 euros, depending on the options and the number of crops to be treated. “

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