When I first started thinking about the use of sophisticated robotics on the front line of horticulture/agriculture, performing most or all field operations autonomously, in a detailed manner, I figured it would already have happened by now, or at least be well underway. In any case it was just a question of when, not if; the logic was too compelling to be ignored. Now I’m less confident, although still hopeful.
Clearly I badly misestimated some factor: the rate of progress in computing and robotics, the difficulty of adapting these technologies to the array of tasks involved, the tremendous momentum of business as usual once it becomes a matter of money rather than simply conventional practice, or the degree to which others might share the vision that was burning in my brain.
If anything, I underestimated the rate of progress in computing, which has been going gangbusters since the invention of the personal computer, almost without a break. On the other hand, I probably overestimated the rate of progress in robotics. There’s been quite a bit, but we’re not yet to the point where you can assemble a complete machine for practically any purpose from readily available parts in stock. That time is still coming, but it isn’t here yet.
I think I’m a realist about business momentum. I understand the deep conservatism that guides most investment, and the heavily conventional nature of most marketing types, allowing for only incremental change. No surprises there.
What’s left is the difficulty of adapting technology and the degree to which others might comprehend and share my vision, two factors I believe to be connected in a sort of chicken/egg (which comes first?) relationship.
It’s easier to imagine a field being managed by robotic machinery if you have an example of such a machine sitting in front of you. On the other hand it’s easier to think about building such a machine if you have a clear idea of what all it’s supposed to be able to do, and how fast it will have to work to succeed, with what safeguards – basic design parameters.
Lacking the means to contribute much in the way of machine design, I’ve concentrated on elaborating and pushing the vision, hoping others better positioned to work on the hardware might become interested.
[2012Oct13: The final portion of this post removed for being what I’d term navel-gazing.]
Reposted from Cultibotics.