Two robots follow boundary markers on either side of an irrigation pipe. Photo credit: Harvest Automation.
In mid-2012, four HV-100 robots from Harvest Automation achieved an elusive milestone in robotics: the robots were purchased by a customer and began everyday farm work. HV-100s, also known as Harvey robots, distribute and collect container-grown plants in greenhouses and on large nursery farms. Since their introduction, more growers have adopted Harveys, and to date, Harvey robots have moved well over three million plants.
The first crop robots to achieve commercial relevance are now entering service in the nursery and greenhouse sector of agriculture. Contrary to popular imagination, expert prediction, and much academic research, the first successful agricultural robots are engaged in activities other than fruit and vegetable picking or row crop maintenance. This article examines the forces that drive the choice of application for commercial robots, describes an early agricultural robot, and suggests areas for further development.