Self-driving tractors and other autonomous farm machinery promise many transformative benefits for the future of farming. They have the potential to reduce labour costs, improve farming precision, and can allow farmers to use their time more productively on other tasks to optimise their operations. Various prototypes and some autonomous machines are currently available to Australian farmers; however, connectivity remains a big barrier to their adoption.
One such company that specialises in autonomous machinery is Australian agtech company SwarmFarm Robotics. SwarmFarm are true pioneers and they have the runs on board to prove it, having recently revealed that their autonomous robots have already covered one million acres of farm land through over 55,000 hours – an impressive achievement that puts them ahead of many much larger companies that are now trying to catch up in the race to full autonomy. Despite this success, poor connectivity continues to be a major barrier to adoption as it hampers much of the functionality of the robots and can seriously impact on running time if an operator loses contact with the SwarmBot. For this reason, SwarmFarm were very keen to assess Zetifi’s connectivity solutions to alleviate this pain point for their customers.
Field Service Coordinator for SwarmFarm, Dustin Van Nek, recently trialled a ZetiRover on SwarmBot robot that was guiding a 12m wide Weed-It autonomous sprayer on a farmer’s property in the Darling Downs, QLD. Two SwarmBot sprayers were in use on the farm so Dustin was able to compare the Zetifi product mounted on one, to their standard 4G solution that was running on the other. In terms of improving serviceability of the machines Dustin noted that when software engineers were required to login and do remote updates, pull data down from the cloud and push it into the machines (a twostep process) “the SwarmBot with the ZetiRover had completed both stages before the traditional 4G solution had completed three quarters of the first stage”.
The superior coverage from the ZetiRover also improved the upload speed for coverage maps, meaning that the farm owner could see a more accurate coverage map showing where the SwarmBot had been working. The farmer commented that when checking the two SwarmBot coverage maps the one with the ZetiRover had a complete coverage map loaded and the robot connected using SwarmFarm’s legacy 4G connectivity solution was a significant way behind.
Another important function that benefited from improved connectivity was the ability of the robot to send photo and video footage to the phone app for review by the operator when it encounters an unexpected obstruction. Being able to send these photos to the operator in real-time so an instruction can be given as to whether the robot should continue with the assigned task is critical in maximising the running time of the SwarmBots.
In addition, Dustin also had a ZetiRover mounted to his work ute and found that “being a field service coordinator I’m constantly in contact with field service fitters and support staff. It [the ZetiRover] has certainly increased the coverage so that I can remain productive because I spend a lot of time in my vehicle which is essentially unproductive hours for me.”
Photos (top to bottom): SwarmBot fitted with 5G ZetiRover and Weed-It Sprayer boom at FarmFest 2022; Close-up of 5G ZetiRover and antenna array on e-box of SwarmBot at FarmFest 2022.
NOTE: This case study was researched and written by Birchip Cropping Group as part of the Australian Government-funded 5G Innovation Initiative (5GII) project. The 5G enhanced mobile broadband ZetiRover units were provided to SwarmFarm Robotics free of charge for the period of the trial.