Instead of worrying so much about robots taking away jobs, maybe we should worry more about wages being too low for robots to even get a chance. Seasonal labor for harvesting agricultural products, particularly fruits and vegetables, is dependent on human labor from a diminishing universe of willing workers.
Update: The response to Tertill’s crowdfunding campaign has amazed and delighted us! Pledges totalling over $250,000 have come from 1000+ backers. We’re shipping to all countries, with over a fifth of Tertill’s supporters coming from outside the United States. But the end is near; Tuesday (11 July) is the last full day of the campaign. After that Tertill’s discounted campaign price will no longer be available and delivery in time for next year’s (northern hemisphere) growing season cannot be assured.
Franklin Robotics has launched a Kickstarter campaign for Tertill, their solar-powered, garden-weeding robot.
Crops are key for a sustainable food production and we face several challenges in crop production. First, we need to feed a growing world population. Second, our society demands high-quality foods. Third, we have to reduce the amount agrochemicals that we apply to our fields as it directly affects our ecosystem. Precision farming techniques offer a great potential to address these challenges, but we have to acquire and provide the relevant information about the field status to the farmers such that specific actions can be taken.
The market for agricultural robots has the opportunity for significant expansion: the farming world needs to increase global production whilst it also faces challenges such as reduced availability and the rising costs of farm labour.
Why are so many farm equipment manufacturers so heavily involved in the ag industry yet things are going so slowly in relation to robotics? Perhaps farmers need to first incorporate the digital era — and the concepts and practices of precision agriculture — before taking the next step toward the use of robots.
CBS News profiled a New Jersey vertical farm providing baby kale, arugula, spinach and romaine to nearby Newark and NYC groceries. They boast 130 times more productivity, 95% less water and no pesticides versus field farms. And they harvest 24 times a year, rain, snow or shine.
Soil compression can be a serious problem, but it isn’t always, or in all ways, a bad thing. For example, impressions made by hoofed animals, so long as they only cover a minor fraction of the soil surface, create spaces in which water can accumulate and help it percolate into the soil more effectively, avoiding erosion runoff.
In this episode, Abate De Mey interviews two speakers from the Agricultural track of the RoboUniverse 2016 conference in San Diego: Dan Harburg of Soft Robotics Inc. and Matthew Borzage of BioTac. Borzage and Harburg discuss their distinct approaches to advancing gripping technology in Agriculture. Borzage stresses the importance of tactile sensing while Harburg pushes for low cost, soft grippers with no on-board sensors.
Let’s assume, for a moment, that the vision I’ve laid out in this blog is ridiculously successful, and, over the next few decades, robotic devices take over all aspects of tending land and crops and handling material inputs and produce, and do it using increasingly sustainable practices that begin the process of retaining and enhancing biological diversity and reviving overworked soils. What’s left for farmers to do? Will there even be a need for humans on farms?
At RoboUniverse in San Diego, agricultural robots and the labor shortage were quickly identified as the biggest issues facing the industry today. Water scarcity and field health were other key issues mentioned, but it’s labor that keeps farmers up at night and robotics that could come to their rescue.
I’ve come around to the view that the best and most inclusive term for high-concept farming which is both sustainably productive and ecologically responsible is Regenerative Agriculture. It implies all that is meant by permaculture, agroecology, carbon farming, and organic farming, but goes beyond these to focus on living matter in the soil, and in this is closely aligned with the term biodynamic. That said, I’m not prepared to argue the point; I only say this by way of explaining why I’ve chosen to use this term here.
I’ve long believed that Augmented Reality (AR) and robotics are closely related. Both model their environments to some degree. Robotics uses that model to guide the behavior of a machine, whereas AR uses it to provide an enhanced sensory experience to a human.