Researchers at the University of Sydney are giving the booming Australian agricultural industry some help by developing two robots designed to help monitor crops and provide valuable information to farmers.
Salah Sukkarieh, a professor of robotics and intelligent systems and a researcher at the university's Australian Centre for Field Robotics, told us in an email that the robots, Mantis and Shrimp, were adapted from mining and security projects that researchers have worked on for five years.
The Australian farming industry is finding it hard to cope with both lack of labor availability and high labor costs. Most farmers need help especially around harvesting time when they need lots of workers for short periods of time. Robotics and various forms of intelligent software will help farmers know more about their farm and crop health, which will in turn help them make more informed decisions.
A robot developed by the University of Sydney's Australian Centre for Field Robotics cruises between crops. (Source: University of Sydney)
The Australian robots are reminiscent of a project we discussed last summer, Clever Robots for Crops. Researchers in a number of European countries are working on an robotic platform that can spray certain types of plants or foliage or can select and harvest fruit by identifying the right time to pick.
Shrimp and Mantis have similar characteristics, Sukkarieh said. Electric vehicles with a range of sensors (including vision, laser, thermal, and radar) travel between rows of crops and collect lots of data. "For their agriculture role, we've developed various data fusion and machine-learning algorithms that do things like segment trees out of the data, identify fruit, yield count, etc." The robots can be controlled via smartphone or can run autonomously.
Horticulture Australia Ltd. has helped fund the research. Trials on various farms in Australia have produced positive results. "The robots themselves have been working really well and farmers get a kick out of seeing them on the farm. The real interest starts to show when we demonstrate automatic fruit detection."
The next step is to fine-tune the algorithms for different fruit varieties. The ultimate aim is for the robots to detect and classify fruit ripeness so they can harvest crops.
The University of Sydney team is working on similar automated technology for standard farm tractors. This technology would perceive and analyze the environment and direct the tractor to apply fertilizers and pesticides, water, sweep, or mow.
I was quite a fan of SF in the 1970's...this pair of agricultural robots is a bit spooky for those of us that remember "Silent Running". In that film, most of the crop tending on the spaceship was done by a couple of robots.
I feel this is a great use of robots. The only draw back is the sensors and the AI, however both are advancing quickly. I remember seeing and article about a robotic hand that used a puff of air to test the ripeness of peaches. It might be worth revisiting.
That's a good perspective as well, talmoortariq. The financial aspect of this is probably even more important than the technological aspect, but I imagine before they would be used that return on investment would somehow be factored into the equation. I guess it would be hard to judge for something so new, but I am sure there is a way to do it.
Thanks for the perspective, naperlou, and you're right--it's the jobs where fruit and vegetables needed to be individually harvested and picked that is lacking in labor, which is why researchers are focusing on these areas for robotic help. Although as another reader pointed out, robots also could displace the people that still want to do these jobs.
Chuck, I was literally just out picking raspberries. I cannot imagine how one would automate that. It is a bear. I told my son, who was picking with me, that we would have to re-engineer the plants to make it easier. I can see picking fruit off of trees, but bushes...
Agreed, naperlou. We've been seeing driverless tractors in agriculture for at least five years (see below). Now, as Liz is showing here, we're taking the next step and monitoring the crops with robots.
It is nice that you have classified the pros and cons directly, I'd like to add one more disadvantage of robots in the field, it is that it requires high initial investment, which if not returned in the due time can put the agriculture industry in loss. So the calculations have to be worked out before installing the robots for the farm, to see if they are suitable for that farm.
Every technology has its pros and cons no technology is free of side effects but what we have to measure is whether advantages are more or disadvantages are more and to which extent . Robots in agriculture also some advanatges and disadvanates
1.It reduces the cost as the monthly salary of the employee gets cut down
2. More availability time . no breaks required by the robot
3.More work done in less time.
4. It can easliy work around trees, plants without any issue of disturbance.
1. One major disadvantage is liability issue as its a driverless machine and it changes the concept of farming as well .
2. Agriculture usually require human interaction but if we use robots then it will change the culture of agriculture
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