January 29, 2018
Robotic technology is quietly transforming the world of agriculture, and one industry report shows that market growing to become a $45 billion industry by 2028.
According to the IDTechEx report, Agricultural Robots and Drones 2018-2038: Technologies, Markets, Players, robotic technology will enter into different aspects of agriculture and will change the way farming is done.
The report outlines 20-year forecasts for 16 categories including static milking robots, mobile dairy farm robotics, autonomous agricultural small robots (data scouts, weeding and multi-platform), autonomous tractors (simple guidance, autosteer, fully unmanned autonomy), robotic implements (simple and highly intelligent), robotic strawberry harvesting, robotic fresh fruit picking, and agricultural drones (data scouts, data services/analytics, multi-functional drones, unmanned spraying helicopters).
Will tractors evolve towards full unmanned autonomy?
Tractor guidance and autosteer are well-established technologies. In the short to medium terms, both will continue their growth thanks to improvements and cost reductions in RTK GPS technology. Indeed, we estimate that around 700k tractors equipped with autosteer or tractor guidance will be sold in 2028. We also assess that tractor guidance sales, in unit numbers and revenue, will peak around 2027-2028 before a gradual decline commences. This is because the price differential between autosteer and tractor guidance will narrow, causing autosteer to attract more of the demand. Note that our model accounts for the declining cost of navigational autonomy (e.g., level 4 for autosteer).
The report outlines how unmanned autonomous tractors have also been technologically demonstrated with large-scale market introduction largely delayed- not by technical issues but by regulation, high sensor costs and the lack of farmers’ trust.
This will start to slowly change from 2024 onwards, states the report, as the sales will however only slowly grow.
“We estimate that around 40,000 unmanned fully-autonomous (level 5) tractors will be sold in 2038,” states the report. “The take up will remain slow as users will only slowly become convinced that transitioning from level 4 to level 5 autonomy is value for money. This process will be helped by the rapidly falling price of the automaton suite.
“Overall, our model suggests that tractors with some degree of autonomy will become a $27 billion market at the vehicle level.”
The rise of the agrobot
The growth of small agricultural robots will take off from 2024, states the report.
“We are currently at the beginning of the beginning,” states the report. “The infection point, our models suggest, will arrive in 2024 onwards. At this point, sales will rapidly grow. These small agrobot fleets themselves will also grow in capability, evolving from data acquisition to weeding to offering multiple functionalities. Overall, we anticipate a market as large as $900 million and $2. billion by 2028 and 2038, respectively.”
Implements will become increasingly intelligent
Implements predominantly perform a purely mechanical functional today. There are some notable exceptions, particularly in organic farming. Here, implements are equipped with simple row-following vision technology, enabling them to actively and precisely follow rows.
This is however changing as robotic implements become highly intelligent.
“Indeed, early versions essentially integrated multiple computers onto the implement. These are today used for advanced vision technology enabled by machine learning (e.g., deep learning),” states the report. “Here, the intelligent implements learn to distinguish between crops and weeds as the implement is pulled along the field, enabling them to take site-specific weeding action.
“We anticipate that such implements will become increasingly common in the future. They are currently still in their early generations where the software is still learning, and the hardware is custom built and ruggedized by small firms,” states the report. “Recent activities including acquisitions by major firms suggest that this is changing.”