In this episode, Audrow Nash interviews Chris McCool and Chris Lehnert about different projects that relate to agriculture at the Queensland University of Technology. McCool speaks about a large robot for weed management in fields. The robot uses Real-time kinematic GPS (very accurate) and a camera with deep learning to recognize various types of plants. Lehnert speaks about a robot to harvest sweet peppers. The robot first grabs on to the sweet pepper with a suction cup and then uses a small saw to cut the fruit from the bush. Chris speaks about using their method for other crops, how their robot does in terms of deployment, and the future of agriculture.
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.
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.
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.
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?
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.
Field robots and plane-based remote sensors can patrol the earth and the sky to monitor the gases that cause climate change. Standing on three large wheels that help it avoid getting stuck in the soil, the Field Flux robot is able to lower two sampling chambers held on large arms to test soils for tiny amounts of nitrous oxide (N2O).
Agriculture is one of our most important industries. It provides food, feed and fuel necessary for our survival. With the global population expected to reach 9 billion by 2050, agricultural production must double to meet the demand. And because of limited arable land, productivity must increase 25% to help meet that goal.
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.”
Did you know that the world’s population is set to increase from seven billion people to more than nine billion in the next 40 years? In order to meet this growing demand, agricultural producers will have to increase food production by a staggering 70 to 100 percent. This all needs to happen in a world with increasingly unpredictable weather patterns and ever-rising farm input costs.
You probably have a pretty good sense that I am a firm believer that precision agriculture and information is a big part of the answer. This is all about leveraging technology to provide more timely and accurate data in a way to increase efficiency and productivity by cutting time and overall cost. It is about doing more with less. But how are we getting there?