Cotton is one of India’s most important cash crops. It is grown on 12 million hectares, which is one-third of all the land in the world under cotton. A problem for a farmer in India is that they need a lot of help when it’s time to pick crops. Horticulture crops have many of the same issues as cotton crops, particularly in harvesting. Green Robot Machinery’s cotton picker is made up of several robotic arms that move on their own and are attached to a semi-autonomous electric agricultural vehicle.
About 6 million Indian farmers make their living by growing cotton. Small farmers account for 83% of all farmers, who have less than 2 hectares of land under their control. Only 17% of farmers have more than 2 hectares of land.
Cotton is a more profitable crop for farmers than wheat or paddy, bringing in three times the amount of money paddy farming does. Cotton also needs much less water than paddy and grows well in India, where there is a lot of sunlight all year round.
Tolerant to drought, cotton generates taproots and is produced in nearly every state in India, although 70% of cotton is farmed in Gujarat, Maharashtra, Telangana and Andhra Pradesh. It’s becoming more common for Indian states such as Odisha in the east and Punjab in the west to promote cotton as a substitute for paddy. Cotton is regarded as a better alternative to paddy, a water-sucking crop, when it comes to profitability and environmental sustainability.
Benin, Burkina Faso, and Côte d’Ivoire, three countries in West Africa, are rapidly embracing cotton because it grows well there and it is good for their economies. Cotton is the perfect fibre for clothing because it is good for the environment and can be grown year after year. Interestingly, non-renewable synthetic fibres currently make up over 80% of the textile business. To a considerable extent, cotton can replace synthetic fibres and help the world achieve its Sustainable Development Goals if it is produced in sufficient quantities worldwide. Africa can make a big difference in this development.
Process of Making Cotton
Cotton takes 160 days to grow, and the picking happens in the last 60 days. Cotton is an unpredictable crop, so it is picked every 15 to 20 days, and there are usually three harvests in a season. In India, women usually do the work of picking cotton by hand. On average, a person can pick about 25 kg per day.
Cotton yields vary a lot, and there is a big difference between crops that are watered and those that are grown in the rain. Even though it is mostly grown when it rains, more and more of it is now being grown when it is irrigated. Officially, India produces 1500 kg of seed cotton per hectare and 532 kg of lint cotton per hectare. There are ongoing efforts to increase the lint cotton yield to the global average of 1000kg/Hectare, or 2,850 kgs/Hectare of seed cotton.
Cotton Farming Problems
A farmer in India faces a major issue during the picking season because of the high demand for labour. Due to societal and economic pressures, farm workers are fleeing to less labour-intensive and more cost-effective jobs. The departure of farm labourers will be increased as the country’s educational and economic development improves.
About a third of the cotton in the world is picked by machines that can pick what is called “synchronous bloomed cotton.” Plant growth regulators (PGR), which are hormones, are sprayed on cotton plants to make them bloom at the same time. Then, a defoliant is sprayed on the plant to get rid of the leaves, making the plant ready to be picked with no leaves on it. The machines need the leaves to fall off the plant. If they don’t, the leaves will be full of trash, which is unwanted. Farmers have to plant four times as many seeds as they do with standard multi-bloom cotton to get the same economic output. Small farmers in India won’t be able to afford the higher input costs for synchronous bloom cotton, which come from an increased seed rate, more PGR, and defoliant. Pests, rain, and other things can also damage crops, but multi-bloom cotton reduces these risks. Also, the cost of the mechanical harvesters is too high for small farms right now. Companies that make agro-machinery are working on making small, compact harvesters that are ideal for Indian farming.
Manohar Sambandam, the founder of Green Robot Machinery
I am a farmer who grows cotton on 12.5 acres of land in the southern Indian state of TamilNadu. I have a Master’s in Electronics and Communication and work as a semiconductor engineer. I was in charge of the engineering development of semiconductor chips for WIFI, microcontrollers, and other areas. Additionally, I was an engineering director at a WIFI startup that was bought by a huge multinational and is now the industry’s leading supplier of WIFI chips.
There are also problems with horticulture crops, especially when harvesting, just like there are with cotton crops. Most plants grown in horticulture need to be harvested more than once. Multiple harvesting requires accuracy and intelligence, like a human, to discover, identify and pick the harvestable produce. I chose to focus on cotton picking, which is how people pick cotton. Green Robot Machinery was started with the goal of making farming more sustainable through the use of robotics. Eventually, the equipment will be used for other crops that need meticulous picking, like okra, eggplant, tomatoes and the like.
Most of the problems with India’s low yield are caused by the fact that farmers in India are often unable to respond quickly to concerns like fertigation, weeding, pesticide spraying, etc. owing to a lack of available labour. Robotics can help solve all of these problems and also sustainably boost farm profitability.
Autonomous cotton picker powered by Green Robot Machinery
Green Robot Machinery’s cotton picker is made up of several robotic arms that move on their own and are attached to a semi-autonomous electric farm vehicle. The robotic arm has a stereo camera and a 3 degree of freedom actuator with a cotton-picking end effector. The camera can find cotton with an accuracy of 3 mm in real time. The stripper-like actuator separates the cotton boll from the cotton shell, and a vacuum system pulls the cotton through the arm and into a bin. The electric vehicle can drive itself over a row of crops, and the arm attached to it can pick the crops.
The arm is designed to pick up about 50 kg per day, and four of them on a vehicle can pick up about 200 kg per day, which is the average yield per picking on a cotton farm in India. Farms that produce more can be helped by adding more arms.
The machine will be run by a woman, which will make farm workers more productive and help India’s cotton farmers deal with a serious labour shortage. The machine is designed as a way to make farm work more productive, not as a way to get rid of farm workers. In the long run, if the circumstances call for it, the vehicle will be given more autonomy. When used with an optional sprayer, the equipment can be used during the whole cotton crop season, allowing the farmer to spray pesticides, herbicides, and foliar sprays at the right time.
Precision farm mechanisation faces difficulties with productivity, durability, and dependability, and then with cost.
The needs of small and medium-sized farmers will be met if the machine can reliably pick 200 kg of burst seed cotton each day, or 50,000 bolls, assuming a nominal weight of 4 grammes. It can repeat 12500 picking jobs without a single breakdown because of the use of four robotic arms. If the machine runs for 10 hours a day, it needs to perform around 20 pickings per minute. This is the goal for our robotic arm. The hardest part is making sure the parts are strong and reliable in the field, where humidity, temperature, and dust can be very harsh.
The price of this machine will determine whether or not the solution is good for business. From this point of view, the machine uses all off-the-shelf standard parts from the car, drone, and electric vehicle (EV) ecosystems. This keeps costs low and makes sure that parts are available from more than one place. The 3D printed plastics for the robotic arm and the metal manufacturing of the housing are unique parts that will be reduced in price once production begins.