|Robots eradicate weeds, pick apples, harvest lettuce, and pick apples. Drones take aerial images to help farmers assess crop health in real-time / Photo by: Sompong Sriphet via 123RF|
Does “high-tech” farming sound like an oxymoron to you? It’s not an oxymoron considering that a modern agricultural operation is more likely to be leveraging apps that control irrigation, GPS systems that guide tractors, and RFID-chipped ear tags that monitor livestock, explained Stephen Gossett of Built In, a company dedicated to publishing content on technology, professional development, and tech industry trends. Of course, robotics is also becoming a part of modern agricultural practices.
Robots eradicate weeds, pick apples, harvest lettuce, and pick apples. Drones take aerial images to help farmers assess crop health in real-time. Robotic greenhouses are being established thousands of miles away from traditional farmland regions to grow vegetables in high-consumption urban markets.
Food demand is projected to rise exponentially considering that the global population is forecasted to increase from 7.7 billion to 9.7 billion in just over 30 years, according to an article updated in September 2018 by the World Bank, an international financial institution. Further, growers are also facing a costly, long-term labor shortage, affecting farm production. With the help of robotics, agricultural operations will be much more streamlined.
Statistics On Agriculture
Unlike other sectors, the World Bank found that growth in the agriculture sector is two to four times more effective in raising incomes among the poorest. In fact, a 2016 working paper published by Andres Castañeda and colleagues at the World Bank stated that 65% of poor working adults made agriculture as their source of livelihood.
In 2017, there were over 69.8 million hectares of organic farmland, including in-conversion areas, recorded, as documented by research institution Fibl and organization IFOAM—Organics International. The regions with the largest areas of organic agricultural land are Oceania at 35.9 million hectares, constituting half the world’s organic agricultural land, and Europe at 14.6 million hectares (21%).
They were followed by Latin America, which had eight million hectares (11%), Asia (6.1 million hectares, 9%), North America (3.2 million hectares, 5%), and Africa (2.1 million hectares, 3%). Almost a quarter of the world’s organic agricultural land (16.8 million hectares) and over 87% or 2.4 million of the producers were in developing countries and emerging markets.
Marketing research company Market Research Reports found that the agricultural robots market is expected to grow from 7.4 billion in 2020 to 20.6 billion by 2025 at a CAGR of 22.8% during the forecast period 2020 to 2025, as cited by Cision, a public relations and earned media software firm and services provider. The growth of the market is driven by the decline in the number of skilled labor and the increasing affordability of IoT and GPS technologies.
How Are Robots Used In Farming?
1. Harvesting Crops
The process of harvesting seems “ripe for automation” because it’s taxing and repetitive. It also requires manual dexterity and a delicate touch. Further, many fruits bruise easily under the hot, scorching sun and leafy vegetables are easily torn. But co-founder of Harvest CROO Gary Wishnatzki attempted to meet the demands of consumers who expect fresh strawberries in the middle of winter. And he’s not aiming to remove human farmers from the equation.
The startup developed an advanced strawberry-harvesting robot called Berry 5, thanks to millions of investment dollars from others in the berry sector. The machine uses a variety of robotic components to hold the leaf, pick the berry, and pack it.
Computer vision enables it to differentiate ripe berries from non-ripe ones before plucking. Berry 5 does this faster than human laborers, as it can purportedly pick up a berry in eight seconds and move to the next in one-and-a-half.
2. Eradicating Weeds
Weed control is important and difficult, even for commercial agriculturists, as they get rid of them on a massive scale. Crop rotation is possible but many still rely on herbicides. Plants can become resistant to herbicides and consumers are increasingly aware of chemically treated food. That’s why it’s best to deploy weed-management robots to eradicate those nasty invaders.
For example, wine producer Chateau Mouton-Rothschild worked with Naio Technologies to enlist Ted, the firm’s vine-tailored robotic weed killer. The machine is powered by electricity and is shaped like an inverted U. Ted simultaneously rolls over and around a vine row using RTK satellite navigation to help it stay on course. The blades and finger weeders run along the base and pull weeds from the vines, thereby reducing the need to rely on herbicides.
|The process of harvesting seems “ripe for automation” because it’s taxing and repetitive. It also requires manual dexterity and a delicate touch / Photo by: Ekkasit Keatsirikul via 123RF|
3. Planting Seeds and Providing Aerial Imagery
Aerial imagery can help farmers save precious time by giving them a bird’s eye view of crops. This way, farmers can monitor a vegetation’s health, watch out for insect issues, and track irrigation layouts and weed growth. Aerial imagery also aids them in determining the precise amount of pesticide the crops require. There are drones that even plant seeds for farmers!
For example, American Robotics’ Scout, its aerial imaging drone, flies to examine fields, using AI to plot and conduct the flight. It collects data on crop stress, which farmers can utilize throughout a crop’s life cycle. Scout lives in a weatherproofed box to self-charge and process the data it gathers via edge computing.
Another example is UAV Systems International. The firm sells two drones that spread seed and fertilizer. One drone has a payload capacity of about four pounds and another with a roughly 11-pound payload. The drones have a two-mile flight range, flying for 20 minutes. UAV Systems International also markets crop sprayer drones and surveillance drones to help farmers monitor crop health.
4. Bringing the Farm to Robots
No need to deploy the robots to the field. Instead, bring the field to the robots, which is the epitome of farming automation. To illustrate, Bowery Farming stockpiles layers of trays filled with greens in the traditional vertical-farming format inside its Kearney, N.J.-based growing space. It’s also leveraging robotics, AI, and LED to grow leafy vegetables and herbs to address labor scarcity, population booms, and centralized farming.
A propriety operating system and an array of sensors gather data and maintain an “ultra-precise balance” of temperature, nutrients, water, and humidity. A team of vertical farms assists in harvesting and watching over the crops. Bowery Farming presently sells its produce at Whole Foods, Foragers, and Westside Market. The greens and herbs can also be purchased through Peapod, Jet.com, Amazon, and in Tom Colicchio’s two high-end restaurants.
Robots revolutionize the agriculture sector as they can address labor shortage and streamline taxing farming processes. They can also aid farmers in monitoring the health of crops using robotics solutions. With robotics and other new technologies, the work of farmers will be less taxing and repetitive.