Climate-smart farming robot solves problems

An invention by LiU researcher Per Frankelius and two farmers in the Swedish region of Sörmland could be an important step in the electrification ofagriculture. It also solves other problems such as hard-packed soil, emissions and poorer harvests.

Illustration Fieldgofer. Illustration Fieldgofer.

Patent for Fieldgofer

Karola Reuterström (Stora Lövhulta gård), Per Frankelius (Linköpings universitet) and Mattias Larsson (Abbotnäs säteri).Team Fieldgofer: Karola Reuterström (Stora Lövhulta gård), Per Frankelius (Linköpings universitet) and Mattias Larsson (Abbotnäs säteri).

Last year, Per Frankelius and two farmers, Karola Reuterström from Stora Lövhulta Farm and Mattias Larsson from Abbotnäs Manor, registered a patent for “Fieldgofer”: an autonomous agricultural robot that can be used to spread fertiliser and transport cereals. Because it’s light in weight, it rectifies a major problem in modern agriculture – soil compaction.

“That problem has increased as agricultural machinery have continually got heavier. The consequences include poorer harvests, increased emissions and reduced ability for the soil to absorb water”, says Per Frankelius.

Built-in batteries

Now the trio behind Fieldgofer has updated the robot idea with electric drive and a system for charging the batteries. A patent is pending. The model can be used by Fieldgofer and other agricultural machinery, be they conventional or self-driving robots.

The core idea is to build the battery into a load carrier, which is used both for propulsion and, by way of a converter, to charge the machine’s own battery. The load carrier’s battery, which resembles a huge powerbank, is charged at a station on the farm, ensuring that there are always fully charged batteries/load carriers when these need changing.

The load carrier can be described as a large container for various loads and tanks, and can be used both to transport something to a field or to collect something.

Complex problem

Per Frankelius interviewed by TV.Per Frankelius interviewed by TV4.

Per Frankelius explains that the model can help solve two major problems relating to the electrification of agriculture. Firstly, that the machinery normally consumes large amounts of energy, and secondly, how to locate the charging stations if the machinery is to have its own fixed batteries. One station per field is not realistic, and multiple exchangeable batteries means the machinery can work more continuously.

“For ten to twenty years, people have developed prototype after prototype to solve this. But the results have mostly been little toys or huge machines with massive batteries”, says Per Frankelius, who has “pondered and pondered and pondered” the problem.

“Our concept can be used by any machine that in some way handles loads. Fieldgofer is one thing, but the solution of combining battery and load carrier is, in a way, even more exciting. Here we’re talking long term, but that model can become really significant.”

Crucial financing

For now, both Fieldgofer and the battery solution are theoretical inventions, with one big step to commercialisation and practical use. The next step should be building a prototype for testing in actual operation, perhaps on one of the farms that are part of the project.

“An invention isn’t an innovation until it is used. Now we need to find financial support; we hope that someone in the field will like the concept”, says Per Frankelius.
Fieldgofer has also been submitted to Agtech Challenge, a competition for the best concept for improving agriculture. The winner will be announced in October, and will receive SEK 150,000.

  • Link to news feature in TV4

Illustration Fieldgofer.
A closer view of Fieldgofer.
Illustration of the problems with soil packing.
Illustration (in Swedish) of the many problems with soil compaction.

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