Indian start-up develops autonomous cotton picker

The robotic arms of the battery-operated machine are each capable of picking about 50 kgs cotton per day. That means that four arms, mounted on the vehicle, can pick about 200 kgs per day. High yielding farms can use additional arms, the company says.

Electric robot moves autonomously

Each robotic picking arm has a stereo camera that can detect and locate cotton within 3 mm precision real-time. A gripper dislodges the cotton boll from the cotton shell and a vacuum mechanism moves the cotton through the arm to a collection bin. The electric vehicle can move over a row of cotton autonomously, while the arms are picking.

Cotton is one of the largest commercial crops in India, grown on 12 million hectares. It is a great challenge for Indian farmers to find enough people to pick the cotton during the picking season. At this stage, the cotton picker still needs a person to operate it. In the longer term, the robotic system might be put to work with an autonomous vehicle.

Currently the average yield of a cotton farm in India is 469 kgs per hectare. According to GRoboMac CEO Manohar Sambandam, the challenges of low yield in India are often related to the inability of the farmers to intervene in a timely manner because there is not enough labor available. “Robotics can address these issues and also help improve the farm economics in a sustainable manner”, he says.

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Green Robot Machinery is keeping the costs of the machine low by using off the shelf standard parts from automobiles, drones and EV ecosystems. – Photo: Green Robot Machinery


The machine also supports a sprayer as an add-on, which will help farmers with the timely spraying of pesticides, herbicides and foliar spray. This makes the machine operational throughout the cotton crop season, Green Robot Machinery says.

The Indian startup is keeping the costs of the machine low by using off the shelf standard parts from automobiles, drones and EV ecosystems. This also ensures that the components are available from multiple sources. The custom parts of the cotton picker are the metal housing of the machine and the 3D printed plastic parts of the robotic arm.

Other crops

Mr Sambandam is a cotton farmer and semiconductor engineer with a Masters Degree in Electronics and Communication. He says he decided to focus on cotton picking ‘the way humans picks cotton’ with the machine. “Green Robot Machinery was formed with the primary focus of farm robotics for a sustainable agriculture”, Mr Sambandam emphasises. “In the longer term the machine will be repurposed for other crops like okra, eggplant and tomatoes, which also require precision picking.”

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