IBEX2: the first agribot designed and built to tackle extreme agricultural environments

Farming in the 21st century faces a diverse range of challenges and pressures including a shortage of labour and a need to reduce its environmental impact.

It was these factors which led to DCE’s involvement in the Ibex consortium, a project to develop an extreme mobility agricultural robot, capable of driving itself around steep grassland dairy and sheep hill farms and moorland, where conventional machinery is too dangerous to operate or where the terrain makes it impossible. The objective was to identify and kill weeds and plants which are poisonous to livestock.

Over an 18-month period, the DCE team developed the IBEX2 system from scratch, resulting in a prototype which is capable of traversing a farm autonomously using a combination of onboard sensors. Also fitted to the vehicle is a machine-vision enabled spraying system which is able to recognise weeds and poisonous plants prior to spot spraying them with a carefully calibrated dose of herbicide. IBEX2 replaces expensive and environmentally damaging bulk spraying by helicopter or manual weed spraying.

Capable of autonomous operation with little or no human operator input, IBEX2 swathes a specified area of the farm, planning routes based on available terrain data as well as updating routes when sensed local conditions deviate from the original data set.

The project took place during 2015-16 and was funded by the UK Government’s Innovate UK Agri-Tech catalyst and was selected by DEFRA as an ‘exemplary’ project as well as receiving direct recognition from then government ministers George Eustice MP and Rory Stewart MP.

Ed Gummow, Engineering Director at DCE, said:

“The IBEX2 is the first agribot to successfully identify multiple weed types autonomously in real time, directly in a non-laboratory environment. Additionally IBEX2 trials have proved platform performance and reliability over more than 12 months of extensive field use.”

“The IBEX2 is the first agribot to successfully identify multiple weed types autonomously in real time, directly in a non-laboratory environment. Additionally IBEX2 trials have proved platform performance and reliability over more than 12 months of extensive field use.”

Ed Gummow Engineering Director at DCE