Kubota and Aurea Imaging partner to drive Autonomous Orchard innovations

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On April 24th 2020, Kubota Corporation and Aurea Imaging announced their partnership to explore, validate and demonstrate their combined technology and system solutions for fruit growers around the world. Together, Kubota and Aurea focus on practical tools that leverage the synergies between advanced equipment and Artificial Intelligence (AI) technology, creating value for fruit growers globally.

Kubota is accelerating open innovation through the established Innovation Centers in the different regions of the world. Innovation Center Europe’s focus is to build new business innovations in Orchard and Vineyard farming system solutions through emerging technologies such as Digitalization, AI, Robotics and Autonomous equipment, and advanced Sensor technologies. The key success factor is to create the system link between the equipment in the field and the digital world.

Aurea Imaging develops ‘Crop Intelligence’ products that combine drones and IoT sensors with AI and decision support for high value crops such as apples and pears. Aurea’s prescription maps are used for precision blossom thinning, growth regulation and disease control.

Comment from Kubota, Director of Innovation Centre Europe, Peter van der Vlugt

Kubota’s approach to open innovation through its regional Innovation Centers has greatly paid off now in the strategic partnership with Aurea Imaging. Aurea’s Crop Intelligence platform, its network of worldwide drone pilots, and the extensive knowledge in high value crops, especially in Orchards, will boost forward the decision support system for Orchard growers. At the same time we will directly collaborate on developing new equipment ideas and practically linking our existing Kubota equipment into the Crop Intelligence platform.

Comment from Aurea Imaging, CEO and Co-founder, Bert Rijk

The horticulture sector relies on innovations to help solve its challenges regarding labour force, environmental sustainability and increased productivity. Kubota is the global market leader in equipment for horticulture crops such as orchards and vineyards. Having our Crop Intelligence portfolio work with Kubota’s tractors and machinery we look forward to contributing to a sustainable and profitable horticulture sector.

Questions and Answers section:

Q: What does the strategic partnership mean?
A: Both parties acknowledge that system solutions for growers are needed to cover the full crop cycle, involving connected machinery equipment, sensors, (drone) imaging, digitalization and crop intelligence. It is strategically important for both parties to connect all solutions together in order to create a complementary portfolio of products and services that can be offered to growers.

Q: What are Autonomous Orchard solutions?
A: In order to reduce environmental footprint, tackling labor costs and availability, fight diseases and water shortage, we strongly believe that Robotics and Automation of operations are key for the future. We aim to make the full fruit growing cycle as autonomous as possible.

Q: What is Aurea’s platform, how does it work?
A: Aurea has a strong network of worldwide drone pilots that can fly and map fields quickly. The detailed drone images are imported and analyzed by the Crop Intelligence platform using Artificial Intelligence. It can calculate on tree level 3D height maps, detect number of blossoms, or detect and classify tree health. Based on advanced decision algorithms, so called prescription maps for individual trees can be generated. These maps can be executed by Orchard equipment, like for example a blossom thinning spraying task.

Q: How do you plan to test all this?
A: We have a number of growers that we collaborate with. The growers are open to test the technologies and equipment on their orchard farms.

Q: How long will you be testing?
A: For sure we need a few growing seasons to develop and test the technologies, but there is already a number of years of experience built up with growers. This 2020 season we will test the state-of-the-art technologies, so we don’t start from scratch. The aim is to come with tangible product solutions with two to three years.

Q: What kind of Kubota machines and services will be used and developed?
A: Machines that Kubota will use and develop are Tractors for Orchards, Implements for Orchards like root cutting, spraying, fertilizing and weeding and in the future Autonomous combinations using TIM and Robotics. Kubota also intends to offer Digital platform services in addition.

Q: Which regions do you plan your products?
A: The growers that we test with in the pilots are mainly in The Netherlands and Europe first. There are also plans to collaborate with growers in other regions.

Q: What fruits do you aim for?
A: In the beginning of the proof of concept pilots we focus mainly on Apples and Pears. It is the intention to expand to more fruits.

Q: Do you have plans for other crops?
A: We consider to expand the strategic collaboration based on the knowledge from orchards also into vineyard solutions in the future, and possibly even into other crops as well.

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