Robotic soil sampler eases workload

Rogo Ag hopes to have the autonomous soil sampler working in Canadian fields in the 2020 growing season

A Bobcat-mounted robotic soil sampler offers users consistent core samples and appears likely to drive down prices for sampling services.

“It’s a completely autonomous robot. We developed all the technology in house, except the Bobcat platform that it rides on. We just drive it to a field, you unload it from the trailer, hit go and it collects and packages the soil samples and returns to the edge of the field,” said Drew Schumacher of Rogo Ag.

The company plans to use the robot for its soil sampling service in the United States next summer, and intends to have the autonomous soil sampler on Canadian fields in the summer of 2020.

Schumacher said the machine is in research and development phases and is not for sale at this time.

“We use a patent pending high-speed auger that also is self-cleaning. It has a cleaning collar that it uses to eliminate cross contamination between samples. So that’s one of the core pieces of technologies that we have that enables us to get the depth consistency of that core and to extract the entire core every single time no matter what soil type, and no matter what type of soil conditions,” Schumacher said.

The machine holds 250 samples and can sample a 500-acre field in about six hours.

“We can do about 85 acres an hour on a 2.5 acre grid,” he said.

The sample bags are created out of plastic sheets by the soil sampler using heat sealing, which creates a line of bags similar to sausage links.

“If you label the first bag before it starts the field, it creates an unbreakable chain for all the samples. So then you can simply go through and label them in order with whatever type of labels a client needs,” Schumacher said.

While the robot is working, an operator will watch to ensure it’s not getting into trouble, label bags from previous fields and prepare missions for the next fields.

“We have plans in the future to label bags automatically, and also plans to run more than one robot per operator so that a person spends less time at a given field,” he said.

The autonomous soil sampler could help soil sampling companies that have struggled to keep qualified employees.

Schumacher said the cost of the soil sampling service is similar to current market rates at US$3.50 to $4.50 per acre based on a 2.5 acre grid.

However, he said the robot collects more consistent samples.

“Humans can’t take consistent soil cores as well as a machine can,” Schumacher said.

“Soil core points are pre-planned, that’s all customizable. The benefit is we can repeat those locations within one to two inches, season to season. So you know you will be able to compare apples to apples as you move forward and start accumulation of historical data.”

He said Rogo Ag uses growers’ existing field maps to build the missions for the robot.

“I wouldn’t describe any autonomous technology as super ground-breaking at this point because lots of different people are figuring out autonomous driving. That being said, it takes a lot of time to tune,” Schumacher said.

“We married together both GPS and an inertial measurement unit (IMU), sort of like gyroscope system, to get it to accurately navigate the field within a one-to two-inch tolerance.”

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