Farmers, ranchers and growers the world over are transitioning to precision agricultural methods, i.e., subdividing their acreage into many unique sub-plots — in some cases right down to the individual plant, tree, or animal — thereby enabling increased productivity, trace-ability and lower overall costs. Low-cost aerial vehicles, sensors and cameras are integral to the process and are being used to map, observe, sense and spray.
New Zealand’s government innovation agency Callaghan Innovations and Silicon Valley’s innovation non-profit SVForum organized Transforming AgTech, an event bringing together New Zealand and US agricultural startups in typical Silicon Valley style.
Silicon Valley Robotics Rich Mahoney and Andra Keay led a panel on robotics and agriculture. Here, they highlight NZ startups and innovation groups present at the event.
In 2014, viticulturist William Metz was granted a fellowship by the Villa d’Este Wine Symposium to spend a full year evaluating the potential applications of drones in wine making — a project that saw him fly his senseFly-donated eBee drone at 15 vineyards across France, Switzerland and Germany. In this video William discusses his unique research project and the value he believes drones can bring to the wine making process.
Here’s an interesting robotics challenge – a coalition of blueberry farmers are offering a $250,000 prize for automation solutions that improve blueberry picking. The deadline for entries in the competition has been extended to December 4, 2015. Apparently farmers can’t keep up with the record high demand for blueberries.
Groundwater levels in California’s Central Valley are down to historic lows and reservoirs have been depleted following four consecutive years of severe drought in the state. California is set to introduce water rationing in the coming weeks, and though the new rationing rules will focus on urban areas and not farms for the time being, they serve as a warning bell to farmers who will inevitably need to adapt to the effects of climate change on food production. Long term solutions are needed to help make agriculture drought resistant. How could robotics help?
On January 13 the EU announced its list of robotics projects funded under Horizon 2020, the EU funding program for research and innovation. Agriculture is one of four “priority domains” for robotics funding under H2020, and of these newly funded (or refunded) projects, two – Flourish and SWEEPER – are explicitly related to agriculture.
Grape pickers migrate from field to field in northern Mexico and California. Photo credit: Tomas Castelazo (Own work) via Wikimedia Commons.
77% of all agricultural workers in the US are foreign born and about half of those are undocumented1. These low-wage workers have helped keep American food prices reasonable – especially for growing, harvesting and processing fruits and vegetables.
Legal migrant farm labor is getting hard to find, wages are rising, and the workers less reliable. This isn’t just an American problem; it’s worldwide.
In this episode, Ron Vanderkley speaks with Professor Peter Corke from Queensland University of Technology, about the fast-tracking research that will see robots planting, weeding, maintaining and harvesting crops. The AgBot is a light-weight, golf buggy-sized robot that has been specifically designed to reduce the environmental impact of weeding.
Keystone Technology’s LED vegetable garden system is a cultivation system for indoor plant factories that uses LED lighting instead of sunlight. The most defining feature of the system on display at the company’s showroom in Yokohama is its 3-dimensional use of space. “This is a 5-tiered cultivation system. For smaller heads of lettuce, you can harvest about 1,500 heads in one month. If this were to be fit into a container of about 20 feet (6m), it would be equivalent to 970 sq. meters. Thus with 16 sq. meters, you could produce an amount that is on par with 970 sq. meters.”
Harvest Automation, a Massachusetts-based start-up, has begun shipping their robots. After five years and an A, B and C round of equity funding, plus some debt, totalling almost $25 million, their HV-100 mobile robots are finally coming to market.
Over the last few years, there has been increasing talk about the potential of agriculture as a market for robotics. Speaking about future markets for unmanned aerial systems in a recent presentation at Maker Faire, DIY Drones founder and CEO of 3D Robotics Chris Anderson characterized agriculture as the “biggest economic potential with the lowest regulatory barriers,” and talked about the important role they can play in supplying much needed data to farmers, stating that “agriculture is a big data problem without the big data.”