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A multipurpose solution that agriculture needs now

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From cultivating the land to harvesting the crop, PeK Automotive’s fully autonomous robot covers the entire agricultural cycle, saving farmers time, effort and a lot of money.

Agriculture is undoubtedly one of the hardest jobs in the world. As well as being physically demanding and labour intensive, farming requires a high level of knowledge and expertise. Farmers have to take into account different soil types and unpredictable weather conditions, as well as the different nutrient requirements of crops, pest control strategies and harvesting techniques. Even under the best of conditions, this is a tall order.

Today’s farmers rarely have the benefit of ideal conditions. Struggling with rising costs, drought conditions, labour shortages and supply chain problems, farmers around the world must constantly strive to do more with less. Technology companies and equipment manufacturers are determined to help, developing solutions that automate the most difficult, most dangerous tasks. PeK Automotive has set out to build the one robot that masters it all.

Enter the Slopehelper, a fully autonomous, multi-purpose machine that uses artificial intelligence and innovative radar technology to perform tasks throughout the entire agricultural cycle. The Slopehelper is designed to work in vineyards, orchards and any plantation with crop rows. Powered by an electric motor and without a driver or operator, the Slopehelper can be used for tillage, fertilizing, pruning, mowing, spraying and harvesting.

To understand what a Slopehelper is, it helps to know what it isn’t, says Dr. Mikhail Kostkin, CEO and CTO of PeK Automotive. It is not a director or a platform. It is not a machine that connects other equipment that is available now. The Slopehelper is not just an implement for one part of the agricultural cycle. It’s a whole, complete and comprehensive system that includes all the tools needed to support the entire farming cycle year-round.

A robot that helps farmers multitask

Perhaps one of the most exciting features of the Slopehelper is that it is designed to operate unattended in a wide variety of harsh conditions, including muddy fields and steep hillsides up to 42 degrees, while carrying up to 2 tons of weight uphill, downhill or on flat terrain. Farmers can put the autonomous robot to work with ease. The system navigates seamlessly using differential GNSS and adapts in real time to any new situation using sensors, radar and a powerful algorithm based on artificial intelligence.

Farmers who want to be more involved in the work can monitor the Slopehelper’s operation anytime and from anywhere using the TeroAir mobile app. The app alerts users to any challenges that arise. The same notification is also sent to the Slopehelper support team in case the user needs further assistance to fix the issue. In addition to asking users for help, Slopehelper will only stop working when it has completed its configured task or when the battery charge drops below 5 percent. The app alerts the user to these situations and records a video of its work, but it also goes one step further.

A second advantage of the advanced TeroAir system is that it also provides powerful feedback from the field, says Kostkin. After custom installation of the machine, the user sets an initial starting point and the Slopehelper starts. As it runs, it gets better over time by collecting data that customers can use to make changes that maximize efficiency. The information can also be shared with agricultural analysts and consultants who can make adjustments and improvements throughout the farming cycle.

The Slopehelper, equipped with specialized weather stations, collects data on everything from moisture and wind speed to telemetry and vegetation. Armed with this information, users can better adjust spray schedules, mowing schedules and other operations. Over time, farmers will become better prepared for whatever comes their way.

A system designed for Agriculture 4.0

As the agriculture industry continues to evolve, experts expect the machines, tools and systems being developed will help farmers improve profitability, efficiency and the safety of workers and the environment. Slopehelper is built on this expectation. The autonomous robot was not only tested in the worst fields the company could find to ensure its durability, but it was also built to be extremely reliable, versatile and cost-effective.

When developing the Slopehelper, we were very precise in gathering information about the technical requirements that our customers wanted and felt comfortable with, says Kostkin. The result was a machine that is very economical. When we compared our machine over ten years with a conventional farming system based on a tractor and detachable equipment, we found that the Slopehelper cost 220 percent less than conventional practices. It’s a very important machine, especially for modern farmers.

Part of what makes the machine so efficient is that it comes with a wealth of implements for almost every possible task. In addition to common ones like sprayers and mowers, the Slopehelper has a power weed eater, drum mulcher, disc plow, front mower and more. Such a wide range of capabilities frees up workers to focus on other tasks. When it’s time to harvest, the Slopehelper transforms into a platform that can support six hand pickers (two at each of the robot’s three height levels) at once.

The machine is also cost-effective. Because the Slopehelper incorporates components and technologies designed, developed and manufactured exclusively by PeK Automotive, the company can offer its customers a solution that costs nearly three times less than existing agricultural machinery. Kostkin credits the highly skilled engineering team for being able to achieve something that is incredibly rare in agriculture.

When we first started gathering the technical requirements for the Slopehelper, we were surprised to find that there was almost no difference between agriculture and the military, he says. Both have very high requirements for reliability and cost-effectiveness. To make the machine work, we basically have to use off-the-shelf technologies, because you can’t ask a farmer for half a million dollars for a robot. This was the biggest challenge, because creating a machine with a high level of control usually requires a lot of special electronic components. We were only able to do this because we have a skilled engineering team that happens to know a lot about complex system solutions.

Autonomous solutions for 2022 and beyond

Farmers looking for a Slopehelper are in luck. PeK Automotive began regional production of the machines last season. The company has been pleased with the results and has delivered machines to customers where it can oversee the use of the machine in the field.

For next season, customers who buy a Slopehelper will work without the company’s experts on site, just through cloud services that provide technical support if a problem arises. This will continue year-round in 2022. By next year, PeK Automotive will have the resources it needs to build a worldwide sales network and deploy Slopehelper machines in plants near and far.

The future is bright, says Kostkin. There’s huge demand for our current product, but we’re also working on two more solutions – one for smaller plantations and the other for robotic mowing.

The machine for smaller plantations, less than 15 hectares, is called AHelper. It will contain all the electronic systems developed for the Slopehelper, but in a smaller, more compact robot. The third machine, LHelper, is designed for autonomous mowing. It will be equipped with an advanced satellite positioning system, at a price that will make it accessible to landscapers and landowners with large estates. PeK Automotive is excited to bring these products to market, but in the meantime, Kostin is pleased that the Slopehelper will make one of the world’s hardest jobs easier.

Our goal was to change the world, he says. Slopehelper not only changed the rules of the agricultural industry – it really helped make the industry better.

Source: https://www.agricultural-robotics.com/news/slopehelper-is-the-multipurpose-solution-the-farming-industry-needs-now