Tuesday, September 03, 2013

Robotics in Horticulture and Agriculture

Just when you thought it safe and you escaped from the drones overhead, technology on your farm may get even scarier.

Robotics are coming to a farm near you - sometime in the next year or two.  Initially, they will not be everywhere - but they are coming, and reasonably quickly.
A group of engineers from the University of Sydney are leading the charge to create the first robot in the world to measure yield, pick vegetables and even weed crops.

Mark Calleija, a researcher from the Centre for Field Robotics, says his team is in the starting stages of building a generic machine that can work with vegetables, cotton and grains on a commercial scale. Not considered an easy feat by the industry, there are going to be many trials ahead but the initial progress is positive.

"It's looking like, in the next year or so, we are going to have a tele-operated partially autonomous robot out in the field that will be able to gather data and provide useful crop intelligence back to the farmer," he said.
Mark has predicted that within the next two to three years there will be autonomous weeding, autonomous crop intelligence and autonomous harvesting.

While robotics have seen developing use in industry, with fixed robots, the trend has been to try and match and develop co-operation between robots and their mentors [ if that is the term].  A recent Scientific American magazine [May 2013] had an intriguing story of industrial robots and their operators, and the level of co-operation that can be developed.  It was extraordinary - and made for real improvements in speed and quality of work.

How quickly it will develop in agriculture is probably still even too early to speculate.

But agriculture has often been a keen user of new technologies - it is not a backwards looking industry at all, and current use of drones is quite relevant to how robotics may move in the industry.

Develop a decent option - it will be commercialised and used!

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