Very interesting article. I think robots will be used more and more for agricultural applications as time goes on.
One important thing to consider is the economic costs/benefits of using robots. Farming typically has low profit margins and the use of any expensive equipment (including robots) must be economically justified by the farmer. If the costs are low, then robotic farming would make sense.
Greg, that's a good point. Actually, for grain crops these are not really necessary. Grain farmers have lots of data about their fields from various sources and the equipment is already computer controlled. For example, combines have real time yield monitors. A computer in the cab is fed the data and this is collected on a memory device. Some farmers may process this at home. Many take it to their farm supply dealer and they can then look at detailed maps of fields. In the case of the much talked about drought resistant seed varieties, it would make no sense to plant this all through the farm if there are areas that were not that much affected. That type of seed is more expensive. The machines that dispense fertilizer, herbicide and pesticides are already computer controlled, using the data mentioned above.
We are already at 1% of the population of the US involved in farming. That gets us massive amounts of food to consume here and to export. We are the biggest exporter of food in the world. Where these technologies are useful is for fruit and vegetable crops. I see the robots, coupled with indoor growing environments, as the future of those crrops.
I think you guys are right – I have some very Hi-Tech farmers in my extended family and from what I've seen, these spider planters would be very cost prohibitive and less than efficient if planting one seed at a time. My guess on cost per spider has got to be at least several thousand dollars. Then, to individually analyze soil on a seed by seed basis ,,,Seems like technology overkill.
I'm just sitting here trying to wrap my mind around the concept. I am certainly used to technology helping to improve task efficiency in many areas - but robotic workers in farming? I guess it makes sense for large operations, but the small family farms and hobby farms represent a way of life that is irreplaceable. Technology as usual is a mixed blessing...
I understand your ambivalence, Nancy. My guess is that these tools will be used more on corporate farms rather than the family farm. I like the idea that a machine will replace the back-breaking work of migrant workers.
Good point Mr. Spiegel, wherever people suffer, robots can save the day. Unfortunately, those laborers need that money. It's a catch 22 for sure.
Most industrial farming is fairly automated already. The next step is removing all human intervention. When it's cheap enough to do so, bots will be the only option. Where are all of our elevator operators today? Out-sponged by robots... of sorts.
I live in rural east central MN among many "smaller" , "family" farming operations. Many people don't realize the level of technology that even the smaller operations utilize. Everything is equipped with sensors and GPS technology.
The concept machines in the slideshow, although interesting, appear to be toys compared to what most farmers use. The more likely scenario is autonomy incorporated into existing style machines to avoid loss of scale.
For truely sustainable agriculture to go main stream, robotics are necessary. The small and multi use systems as described in this article are coming much closer to the picture of what will be needed.. given the right data knowledge base, the system of multi robots with multi tools can begin to change the methodoclogy from mono crops to multi crops and also move from chemical remediations to physical remediation on both weeds when needed to be removed to insects and advising farmers when there is an issue.. this large data knowledge base can also help farmers with or without sustainable agriculural machines. The knowledge base can be designed for each area of the world or countries with each plant types and insect types and weather taken into consideration.. Also agricultural methodolgies can be part of the knowledge base educating farmers on how to do sustainable agriculture. Picture small bots sensing a bug.. identifiying it or quering the master farmer data base or the farmer and determing if it is a good bug or bad.. if bad given instructions to eliminate and the bot going and vacuming up the bug and creating more compost.. :D and sending more info to a larger network to be aware of a bug invasion potential into the area.. thanks for the article.. it is fun to see this progress.
The picker robot is a neat item. I would be interested in the approximate cost of such a robot. Low bushy crops like strawberries and pumpkins are difficult to harvest on a large scale. It requires human dexterity to adequately harvest these crops. It would be great to just let a robot loose on the field and wait a few hours to have your crop.