SOMIRO is an EU-financed research project that aims to advance the technology for monitoring processes in precision agriculture. Together with eight European partners, Mycronic will develop a swimming soft milli-robot to improve water quality monitoring – while reducing the environmental footprint of farming.
Automation is advancing in agriculture. The number of innovative processes and methods for creating an efficient and resource-friendly farming is constantly increasing. One example is precision agriculture - a farming management concept that allows for real-time monitoring of crops, fields, and farming environments. Precision agriculture makes use of new technologies to increase crop yields and profitability while lowering the levels of traditional inputs needed to grow crops, e.g. land, water, and fertilizer. Together with smart methods, such as hydroponics, precision agriculture will be vital to ensure a safe supply of food in Europe.
SOMIRO, a Horizon 2020 EU-funded project, aims to boost the use of robotics in the agri-food sector by developing soft swimming milli-robots to improve water quality monitoring. The robots will be less than 1 cm long and look like flatworms in the ocean.
World’s first energy-autonomous swimming milli-robot
Until today, no energy autonomous milli-robot has been demonstrated capable of performing hours of continuous operation. The major reason is related to a limitation of energy: locomotion, sensors, and communication all require energy, and a small robot has limited space for energy collection and storage.
The SOMIRO project will develop the world’s first energy-autonomous swimming milli-robot. It will have a month-long energy autonomy, local intelligence, and the ability to continuously generate data and optically communicate. To power the device, they will not rely on any dedicated infrastructure, but only on natural sunlight.
“A soft and stretchable system enables the robot to locomote in water environments, either by utlising an undulating motion. The challenge of this project is not only designing a very compact, energy efficient robot, but also understanding how to produce it in a commercial setting”, explains Gustaf Mårtensson at Mycronic, Expert Complex Fluids and a member of the project team.
Improving water quality monitoring
The SOMIRO soft milli-robots will initially be tested in two different types of water environment, an aquaponic system and a paddy field, both located in Italy. The project will primarily focus on improving water quality monitoring, but in the long-term the milli-robot has the potential to be used in several areas – not only in agriculture.
“I see a great potential in this technology because it allows an assembly of intelligent robots to communicate and even collaborate with each other. They would be able to cover a much larger area than stationary systems and could be rapidly deployed and self-redistribute where most needed. This could be useful in all situations where there is a need for something small and self-propelled to monitor a process and to obtain important information about current conditions”, says Gustaf Mårtensson.
The ultimate goal of the project is to develop technology that contribute to a more efficient and resource-friendly farming. It aims to demonstrate the potential for reducing the environmental impact of farming in terms of carbon footprint, eutrophication, and excessive use of pesticides and feed.
Mycronic's main tasks in the project
- collaborate with the project partners concerning the technical design of the millirobots
- lead the design of the manufacturing of the millirobots aides by the project partners, especially Uppsala University
- lead the technical exploitation and IPR management strategy
- Uppsala University (Sweden)
- École Polytechnique Fédérale de Lausanne (Switzerland)
- Max Planck Institute for Intelligent Systems (Germany)
- Universität Linz (Austria), Fundación IMDEA Networks (Spain)
- Mycronic AB (Sweden)
- Battioli Paola Società Agricola S.S. (Italy)
- The Circle Società Agricola a Responsabilita Limitata (Italy)
- Warrant Hub SPA (Italy)
Published: 27 January 2021