Industries in Depth

Scientists develop a robot to maintain plants grown under solar panels

A team of scientists have developed a robot, called SynRobo, to help care for a variety of plants growing beneath solar panels.

A team of scientists have developed a robot, called SynRobo, to help care for a variety of plants growing beneath solar panels. Image: Unsplash/Moritz Kindler

Paige Bennett
Writer, EcoWatch
Share:
Our Impact
What's the World Economic Forum doing to accelerate action on Industries in Depth?
The Big Picture
Explore and monitor how Agritech is affecting economies, industries and global issues
A hand holding a looking glass by a lake
Crowdsource Innovation
Get involved with our crowdsourced digital platform to deliver impact at scale
Stay up to date:

Agritech

  • A team of scientists have developed a robot to help care for a variety of plants growing beneath solar panels, EcoWatch reports.
  • The robot is designed to sow, prune and harvest crops, even in densely planted areas without interfering with nearby plants.
  • The researchers hope the robot will promote Synecoculture - a new type of agriculture which blends human and artificial intelligence to grow a high-density yet varied group of crops to boost biodiversity.

A team of scientists have developed a robot, called SynRobo, to help care for a variety of plants growing beneath solar panels. The robot is designed to sow, prune and harvest crops, even in densely planted areas without interfering with nearby plants.

The robot is designed to work with a Synecoculture system, which is a new type of agriculture by Masatoshi Funabashi, a senior researcher at Sony Computer Science Laboratories, Inc. (Sony CSL). According to Sony CSL, Synecoculture blends human and artificial intelligence to grow a high-density yet varied group of crops to boost biodiversity and minimize land impacts while producing more food.

But growing so many different types of crops, especially in high-density, requires more time and precision to care for each type of plant without disrupting other nearby plants with different needs.

Consequently, a team of scientists led by Takuya Otani, an assistant professor at Waseda University in Tokyo, in collaboration with Sustainergy Company and Sony CSL, developed a robot made specifically to work within a Synecoculture system.

The robot can complete various tasks, unlike other agricultural robots that are often limited to performing only one task. The design allows the robot to maneuver and perform its tasks carefully, so as not to disturb the environment or other plants.

“It has a four-wheel mechanism that enables movement on uneven land and a robotic arm that expands and contracts to help overcome obstacles. The robot can move on slopes and avoid small steps,” Otani explained in a statement.

SynRobo has a 360° camera to help it navigate around the farming area, and tools like anchors and pruning scissors help it complete separate tasks. But if it needs assistance, SynRobo can also be controlled by humans.

In addition to the robot, which the scientists shared in a recently published study for the journal Agriculture, the team developed innovative methods for more efficient seeding. They coated different seed types in soil until the seeds were the same size, so the robot could sow different plant seeds at the same time without having to adjust to different shapes or sizes.

The researchers hope that developing an efficient robot will promote Synecoculture and renewable energy, since this method of agriculture can work well in underutilized areas, like beneath solar panels on solar farms. But they also explained that with some minor adjustments, SynRobo can work in conventional agricultural applications as well.

“It can be widely used in general agriculture as well as Synecoculture — only the tools need to be changed when working with different plants,” Otani said. “This robot will contribute to improving the yield per unit area and increase farming efficiency.”

According to Sony CSL, Synecoculture testing in Japan and sub-Saharan Africa have been successful. Otani also shared that Sustainergy Company plans to commercialize SynRobo in various underutilized and desertified locations, including in Japan and Kenya.

Have you read?
Loading...
Don't miss any update on this topic

Create a free account and access your personalized content collection with our latest publications and analyses.

Sign up for free

License and Republishing

World Economic Forum articles may be republished in accordance with the Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivatives 4.0 International Public License, and in accordance with our Terms of Use.

The views expressed in this article are those of the author alone and not the World Economic Forum.

Share:
World Economic Forum logo
Global Agenda

The Agenda Weekly

A weekly update of the most important issues driving the global agenda

Subscribe today

You can unsubscribe at any time using the link in our emails. For more details, review our privacy policy.

1:50

Top 5 countries leading the sustainable tourism sector

Robin Pomeroy and Linda Lacina

April 29, 2024

About Us

Events

Media

Partners & Members

  • Join Us

Language Editions

Privacy Policy & Terms of Service

© 2024 World Economic Forum