The successful implementation of the GreenPatrol project has enabled the CTC Technology Centre to offer innovative technological solutions related to autonomous terrestrial robotics. The precise location and navigation system features in greenhouses developed in this European research allow the results obtained to be extrapolated to other applications in other sectors: the control of critical infrastructures and industrial environments; safe inspection in risk areas; locating people in areas affected by natural disasters or carrying out disinfection tasks in health spaces, such as hospitals or health centres, are just some of the possible uses of this technology.
During the official presentation of the results achieved, Francisco Martín, Minister of Innovation, Industry, Transport and Trade of the Government of Cantabria, and Guillermo Blanco, Minister of Rural Development, Livestock, Fisheries, Food and Environment of the Government of Cantabria, showed great interest in all the business alternatives offered by this technology. “The Government of Cantabria support a success story of a technology centre at the forefront of this type of technology in the world,” said Mr Martín. “What CTC has achieved did not exist before,” said the Minister for Innovation, Industry, Transport and Trade.
“This solution allows early treatment of pests that affect crops, thus minimising economic losses and optimising the use of plant health products to preserve the environment”, said Guillermo Blanco. “This is a magnificent opportunity for profitability in Cantabria and also for areas where there are more indoor crops, such as the south of the peninsula,” added the regional head of Rural Development, Livestock, Fisheries, Food and Environment.
David González Pescador and Roberto González Portilla, Chair of the Board of Trustees and the Executive Committee of CTC respectively, together with Beatriz Sancristóbal, General Manager of CTC, hosted a presentation under the strictest security protocols. Sancristóbal indicated that the scope of these developments goes beyond solutions aimed at intelligent agriculture solutions: “CTC can propose solutions to companies that require autonomous robotic applications in which precise and safe navigation is a determining factor, regardless of the environment”.
The main challenge that CTC researchers have overcome in this project linked to the European Union’s H2020 Framework Programme was to provide the robot with positioning and environmental modelling capabilities and autonomous navigation skills. CTC’s work has crystallised into a system that uses the data provided by the robot’s precise positioning module, which relies on the new Galileo signals to achieve an accuracy whose margin of error is just 20 centimetres. Thanks to this development, CTC has equipped the robot with the ability to navigate through narrow spaces, effectively, in a highly changing environment, with the presence of people and other unforeseen obstacles.
An ad-hoc marketing plan that considered the exploitation of the system both as a product and a service was designed within the project. The plan envisages an additional year of optimisations before industrialising the solution, adapting the pre-commercial prototype and starting the manufacture of the first units. If this occurs, the first GreenPatrol units could begin service in 2024. In this sense, Martín highlighted that “CTC is one of the jewels of innovation in our region and a model to follow”. “A model that we must follow to try to implement a new growth pattern based on knowledge and talent” he concluded.
GreenPatrol has reached the end of its 35-month execution period with the satisfaction of having achieved all its technical objectives. The development of an integrated pest management strategy thanks to a precise positioning solution based on GNSS navigation for semi-indoor environments; a system for the early detection of pests affecting the highest value-added crops, such as peppers or tomatoes; as well as the technology implemented to facilitate the autonomous navigation of this device are the results obtained within the development of the project.
The European consortium of this research formed by CTC, Tekniker Foundation, Inkoa Sistemas SL, the Czech University Mendelova Univerzita V Brne, the English company GMV-NSL and the Dutch company Aerovision Bv, has demonstrated the technical feasibility of the system developed in a real environment.
GreenPatrol is a solution that will help solve some of the current challenges affecting the most immediate future of agriculture. In the circumstances, the challenge is to respond to the needs of a growing population while reducing the environmental footprint in terms of emissions and soil degradation. To produce more with less. Green Patrol provides a solution to increase production and quality in greenhouse crops and reduce the use of pesticides.
Conditioned by the coronavirus
COVID19 conditioned the final part of this European project, which has a budget of 2.4 million euros. The pandemic forced to reduce as much as possible the tests carried out in warehouses to minimise the risk of contagion. To alleviate this situation, the researchers created two virtual greenhouses, with characteristics representative of a real greenhouse in which they replicated the rows of crops and the width of the corridors, and obstacles and several plants realistically positioned to replicate the variability of the crops. The environment also included the simulation of different levels of positioning error, including areas of GNSS signal degradation and even areas of complete obstruction to simulate the effect of plant growth and the metal structure of the coating.
Thus, although the validation tests in real greenhouses were reduced, the results obtained with the battery of tests carried out in simulation validated these implemented functionalities: the precision of the positioning solution; the autonomous navigation skills, the detection and identification of pests; and the ability of the robot to apply the pesticides locally.