Research

Inauguration of the Renningen research campus Intelligence for the fields: Bosch robot gets rid of weeds automatically and without herbicides New applications for sensor technology and algorithms

  • The challenge: increasing agricultural yield
  • Aim of Bosch research: automation and simplification of plant breeding and weed control
  • Bosch approach: development of an intelligent and flexible agricultural robot
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  • October 08, 2015
  • Research
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press release

Stuttgart and Renningen, Germany – Back in 1950, a farmer would have been able to grow around 2,500 kilograms of wheat per hectare of cropland. Today, that figure has more than tripled. Advances in plant breeding and technical innovations will continue to be necessary in order to feed the growing global population. This is where Bosch’s “Bonirob” agricultural robot can play a part. “We are leveraging our expertise in sensor technology, algorithms, and image recognition to make a contribution to improving quality of life, even in areas that are new for Bosch,” says Professor Amos Albert, a robotics expert and general manager of the Bosch start-up Deepfield Robotics. According to estimates, agricultural yields need to increase by three percent a year to keep up with population growth. Along with innovative agricultural technology and improved crop protection, more efficient plant breeding will play a particularly important role. In this area, Bonirob automates and speeds up analysis. The robot, which is approximately the size of a compact car, uses video- and lidar-based positioning as well as satellite navigation to find its way around the fields. It knows its position to the nearest centimeter. It also helps minimize the environmental impact of crop farming.

Environment sensors and image processing in plant breeding
Today’s plant scientists are able to analyze the genetic makeup of new varieties in great detail – in the laboratory. However, it is only real field conditions that will show how well the plants actually grow: whether they are resistant to pests such as insects and viruses, and how much fertilizer and water they actually need. In painstaking manual work in the field, plant scientists examine and analyze thousands of plants, recording the size and color of their leaves, the size and shape of fruits, growth forms, insect infestation, and chlorophyll content. Based on these findings, they then decide which plant strains are worth pursuing further. The Bonirob is named after this plant appraisal process, which is known in German as Bonitur. Without this robot, it can take up to ten years before improved crops are ready for the market. The Bosch agricultural robot’s automatic image recognition can help here. “Algorithms analyze the photos taken by scanners and cameras. This automatic screening saves a lot of time and effort,” Albert says.

Weed control with minimum environmental impact
Plant breeding is not the only thing Bonirob is capable of speeding up. The agricultural robot also makes everyday work in the fields easier. On the basis of leaf shape, Bonirob can distinguish between crops and weeds. With the help of a rod, it gets rid of weeds mechanically, rather than with weed killer. Undesired plants are simply and swiftly rammed into the ground.

Increasing intelligence through machine learning
In light of the large number of different plants, Bonirob’s automatic image recognition plays a key role. Albert describes the challenge: “The leaves of carrots and chamomile, for example, are very similar in their early stages.” As a result, he has to teach Bonirob how to learn and recognize the shapes of leaves. How do you “explain” the shape of a carrot leaf to a robotic system? Albert and his team use what is known as machine learning. This involves a large number of image files in which the Bosch researchers highlight the weeds. “Over time, based on parameters such as leaf color, shape, and size, Bonirob learns how to differentiate more and more accurately between the plants we want and the plants we don’t want,” Albert says.

New business thanks to agile teams
Albert and his team are developing the agricultural robot at Deepfield Robotics, a Bosch-owned start-up company that emerged from the work of a corporate research team in 2014. Bonirob is the product of a public joint project funded by Germany’s Federal Ministry of Food and Agriculture that saw experts from Bosch, Osnabrück University of Applied Sciences, and the agricultural machinery manufacturer Amazone join forces. Under the auspices of Robert Bosch Start-Up GmbH, Bosch has since taken over the task of further developing this high-tech tool. At the 2015 European Robotics Forum in Vienna last spring, Bonirob was singled out for a 2015 euRobotics Technology Transfer Award. In September, the German Federal Minister of Food and Agriculture Christian Schmidt presented the agricultural robot with an award for innovation in horticulture. It won the Deutscher Innovationspreis Gartenbau in the “technology” category.

Internet
Another agricultural project at Bosch:
http://bit.ly/1UGSLq4
Details about the EU’s Flourish project:
http://bit.ly/1Kcd8Wg

Contact person for press inquiries:
Thilo Resenhoeft, Phone: +49 711 811-7088

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The Bosch Group is a leading global supplier of technology and services. It employs roughly 375,000 associates worldwide (as of December 31, 2015). The company generated sales of 70.6 billion euros in 2015. Its operations are divided into four business sectors: Mobility Solutions, Industrial Technology, Consumer Goods, and Energy and Building Technology. The Bosch Group comprises Robert Bosch GmbH and its roughly 440 subsidiaries and regional companies in some 60 countries. Including sales and service partners, Bosch’s global manufacturing and sales network covers some 150 countries. The basis for the company’s future growth is its innovative strength. Bosch employs 55,800 associates in research and development at 118 locations across the globe. The Bosch Group’s strategic objective is to deliver innovations for a connected life. Bosch improves quality of life worldwide with products and services that are innovative and spark enthusiasm. In short, Bosch creates technology that is “Invented for life.”

The company was set up in Stuttgart in 1886 by Robert Bosch (1861-1942) as “Workshop for Precision Mechanics and Electrical Engineering.” The special ownership structure of Robert Bosch GmbH guarantees the entrepreneurial freedom of the Bosch Group, making it possible for the company to plan over the long term and to undertake significant up-front investments in the safeguarding of its future. Ninety-two percent of the share capital of Robert Bosch GmbH is held by Robert Bosch Stiftung GmbH, a charitable foundation. The majority of voting rights are held by Robert Bosch Industrietreuhand KG, an industrial trust. The entrepreneurial ownership functions are carried out by the trust. The remaining shares are held by the Bosch family and by Robert Bosch GmbH.

Additional information is available online at www.bosch.com and www.bosch-press.com, http://twitter.com/BoschPresse.

PI9031 - October 08, 2015

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