As Augean Robotics Co-Founder and CEO Charles Andersen explains it, when you work on a farm, you do a lot of high dexterity activity—like picking fruit. But you also spend a lot of time just running stuff like harvested fruit or equipment back and forth. He should know: Anderson grew up on a 100-plus acre farm in Pennsylvania.
To help with the repetitive drudgery of hauling items to and fro, Andersen’s company has developed Burro, an autonomous, rugged cart robot that can follow a person around and haul things for them.
The Burro has a 26-inch by 48-inch chassis and comes with a two-wheel and a four-wheel drive option. The two-wheel Burro can carry 300 pounds and the four-wheel drive up to 450 pounds. Burros are powered by sealed lead acid batteries, have a top speed of five miles per hour, and can travel up to 15 miles on a charge.
Using sensors and machine learning algorithms, the Burro can lock on to you as you approach it. From there it will follow you around without the need for you to hold a remote or a beacon. Its following capability, however, isn’t perfect. It can be likened to a dog; if someone else walks in between you and the Burro, it can get distracted. It will stop and wait for you to come back, or for someone else to come within its range.
The Burro can also create an automated route by following a person. For example, if blueberries are being harvested, it can follow a farmer who walks around a particular row of plants. The Burro then learns this route and can go around on its own. Each picker on that row can then set their harvested baskets of berries on the Burro as it passes by on its route.
The goal is to create a robot that collaborates with, rather than replaces, human workers. Farm workers can stick to high dexterity tasks like picking fruit while the nimble Burro navigates its way around people and crops to move stuff around where it needs to go. To achieve that, Andersen wants to keep Burro small, so farms can have many of them just running around all the time carrying fruit, tools, or whatever needs to be moved.
Each Burro costs between $9,000 and $10,000, though Andersen says that half of that cost goes towards one sensor that’s key to making the robot autonomous. He claims the price of that should come down in the future, making Burros a lot less expensive. Augean’s ultimate plan is to make the Burro a platform, and offer expansion kits that allow the robot to do more tasks.
Based in Phoenixville, PA, Augean is currently bootstrapped and has five people working on the product. It uses Anderson’s 191 acre farm for testing purposes, and hopes to have field trials with big growers this summer.
If it takes off, farmhands could soon get a big hand from a bunch of small robots.