Agricultural robots and drones to become a $45bn industry by 2038

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A report by IDTechEx says that robotic technology within agriculture has the potential to become a $45billion industry by 2028.

The report describes tractor guidance and autosteer as well-established technologies and believes both will continue to flourish due to improvements and cost reductions in RTK GPS technology.

“We estimate that around 700k tractors equipped with autosteer or tractor guidance will be sold in 2028,” the report says. “We also assess that tractor guidance sales, in unit numbers and revenue, will peak around 2027-2028 before a gradual decline commences. This is because the price differential between autosteer and tractor guidance will narrow, causing autosteer to attract more of the demand. Note that our model accounts for the declining cost of navigational autonomy (e.g., level 4 for autosteer).”

The report goes on to say that market introduction of autonomous tractors is delayed due to a combination of regulation, high sensor cost and lack of user trust, but this should slowly alter come 2024.

“We estimate that around 40k unmanned fully-autonomous (level 5) tractors will be sold in 2038. The take up will remain slow as users will only slowly become convinced that transitioning from level 4 to level 5 autonomy is value for money. This process will be helped by the rapidly falling price of the automaton suite. Overall, our model suggests that tractors with some degree of autonomy will become a $27Bn market at the vehicle level (our model also forecasts the added value that navigational autonomy provides).”

The report suggests there may be a change in the way we envisage commercial and industrial vehicles, with a shift from large manned vehicles to small fleets of robots. IDTechEx believes the key to success lies in fleet operation. “Our model suggests that there is a very achievable operator-to-fleet-size ratio at which such agrobots become commercially attractive in the medium term.” The report says that sales should start to grow rapidly in 2024 onwards.

“Overall, we anticipate a market as large as $900 million and $2.5Bn by 2028 and 2038, respectively. This will become a significant business but even it will remain a small subset of the overall agricultural vehicle industry.”

IDTechEx anticipates that implements which can learn to distinguish between crops and weeds will become ‘increasingly common in the future’.

Fresh fruit picking is mainly completed via the means of manual labour. However, fresh strawberry harvesters are apparently beginning to be commercially trialled. Process in fruit picking in orchards has been slower due to the multiple and specific requirements the machine would need to adhere to, such as detecting fruits inside a canopy and picking fruit both quickly and gently.

The report detects a slow change in this, with robotic systems that can adapt to the fruit’s shape and improved vision systems and grasping algorithms.

“We forecast that commercial sales – either as equipment sales or service provision – will slowly commence from 2024 and that an infection point will arrive around 2028. Our model suggests a market value for $500M per year for fresh fruit picking in orchards.”

IDTechEx claims, ‘agriculture will be a major market for drones, reaching over $420m in 2028’, while robotic milking parlours which have already created a $1.6bn industry, will continue its growth.

For more information on how robotic technology will enter into different aspects of agriculture refer to IDTechEx’s report: Agricultural Robots and Drones 2018-2038: Technologies, Markets, Players.