Burro Capability Focus: Carry Feature

Those familiar with Burro understand that it is a versatile, multi-use mobile robot designed to relieve labor challenges and improve operational productivity in the agricultural industry. Burro can perform multiple autonomous tasks, including towing, carrying, scouting and patrolling in support of human laborers, whether they work in fields, greenhouses, nurseries or some other location.

The beauty of Burro, however, is that these capabilities are just the beginning of what is possible. Because the robot is essentially a “smart” autonomous platform on wheels, equipped with powerful AI and computer vision, it’s possible to integrate other technologies on board for a variety of new applications. As two examples of this, the company recently partnered with Bitwise Agronomy and BloomX to equip Burro with crop-scouting and pollination technologies.

And, while the total value of Burro is critical to understand, the robot’s capability of carrying is a fundamental support feature for farmers and other agricultural customers.

Challenges of Field Work

According to the North Carolina Farmworker Health Program, farm labor ranks as one of the top three most dangerous occupations in the U.S. The program’s website states: “Injuries in farm work commonly result from repetitive movements and stooping, operating dangerous equipment and carrying heavy loads.”

Injuries are not only often devastating to employees, who rely on their physical abilities to work, but are costly and can lead to reductions in a farm’s overall productivity and profitability. These negative outcomes are challenging for the industry as a whole, which is facing an unprecedented shortage of field laborers.

Another challenge farmers face is the time-consuming and often hazardous task of setting up and breaking down temporary conveyor belts that transfer harvested products to a staging area or a warehouse. These conveyors are awkward, heavy and are frequently flagged in safety audits for their back-injury risks, pinch points and more.

“The challenges of field work are very real.  While challenges from grower to grower are diverse, the need for movement of picked crops from the field, or young plants throughout a nursery show a common thread; a simple solution for autonomous mobility across diverse environments is a huge need.” explained Burro’s Chris Thiesen, head of California sales and service, who brings years of experience in commercial farm management.

Carrying the Day

One solution to these issues is to incorporate new technology, like Burro, into fieldwork operations. Because Burro can carry up to 500 pounds in a single load, even over rough terrain, and boasts a battery life of eight to 10 hours (equating to around eight miles traversed), the robot can take on much of the burden of hauling harvested product from deep within the field where it’s picked. When growers take advantage of the company’s optional XL kit, the Burro platform expands to carry up to 750 pounds, with greater stability and higher tray stacking.

Similar to a train pulling a line of boxcars, Burro can also pull multiple trailers behind it, maximizing operational productivity further. And, while a Burro is in transit, laborers can execute other tasks while they wait for it to return, adding to efficiency gains.

“Burro takes all heavy carrying and mobility challenges for people out of the equation,” said Thiesen. “After a worker has loaded Burro with the target crop, Burro autonomously navigates from the field to the drop zone and back using a combination of GPS and intelligent computer vision, or in many cases with computer vision alone.”

This computer vision is so sophisticated that it can identify its path of travel and differentiate a traversable path from people and objects. In the event of an unexpected obstacle, Burro chimes to alert workers.

Burro’s on-board cameras also feed live footage to fleet managers to provide visibility while it is in use. Managers can view real-time data on a user-friendly dashboard that includes stats such as locations of Burros, their operational statuses, how far each has traveled, what the utilization rates are for each and more. 

Whether a farm or nursery is producing berries, citrus, grapes or even potted lavender, the return on investment is high. Best of all, Burro is easy to use and requires very little training. The company offers loads of training videos online and provides on-site or remote training and support to customers.

“Burro is easy to use,” said Thiesen. “In the field, crews have Burros working by their side as soon as they start the day.  In nurseries, users teach Burro its route by walking the path of travel with their Burro following close behind.  That Burro can immediately go to work, or, if a team of Burros is needed, the route can be shared from Burro to Burro for a team of Burros working in unison. This connectivity and versatility gives farmers access to an immediate army of automated support that can operate for a full day, without risk of injury or human error.”

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