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Startup Testing Mobile Farmbots

Soulskill posted more than 2 years ago | from the robot-get-me-carrots dept.

Robotics 243

An anonymous reader writes "Wired reports on Harvest Automation, a Massachusetts company developing small robots that can perform basic agricultural labor. The ones currently being tested in greenhouses and plant nurseries are 'knee-high, wheeled machines.' 'Each robot has a gripper for grasping pots, a deck for carrying pots, and an array of sensors to keep track of where it is and what's around it. Teams of robots zip around nursery fields, single-mindedly spacing and grouping plants. Key to making the robots flexible and cost-effective is designing them to work only with information provided by their sensors. They don't construct a global map of their environment, and they don't use GPS. The robots have sensors that detect boundary markers, a laser range finder to detect objects in front of them, and a gyroscope for navigating by dead reckoning. The robots determine how far they've traveled by keeping track of wheel rotations.'"

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243 comments

This would solve... (0, Interesting)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#38039030)

...a whole lot of U.S. immigration problems.

Re:This would solve... (4, Interesting)

wanzeo (1800058) | more than 2 years ago | (#38039204)

Actually, something like this can't really take off precisely because of cheap labor. Cheap bots will only be capable of limited tasks while requiring close supervision, and expensive ones will cost much more than a minimum wage laborer.

Not too long ago I was looking into what it would cost to build a (nearly) fully automated greenhouse. The problem is, no matter how efficient or clever your system is, you simply cannot compete with the cost of human labor at the very bottom of the skills spectrum.

It is frustrating, because it seems like we should automate the more basic and repetitive tasks first, but in a market based economy, is simply isn't, well, economical.

Re:This would solve... (2, Insightful)

benjamindees (441808) | more than 2 years ago | (#38039276)

The problem is, no matter how efficient or clever your system is, you simply cannot compete with the cost of human labor at the very bottom of the skills spectrum.

Completely true. When the "cost" of a human is perhaps a few hundred dollars, beneficial technologies wither on the vine as our living standards fall trying to "compete". That is exactly what we are witnessing right now -- a race to the bottom.

in a market based economy, is simply isn't, well, economical.

A market economy can't exist without sensible government regulation of negative externalities. Immigrants are a negative externality. The US government has completely failed to regulate it.

Re:This would solve... (0)

FooAtWFU (699187) | more than 2 years ago | (#38039498)

But humanity has so many things we could be doing! It's not an efficient use of society's capital to build robots when cheap farm labor is readily available. As long as this cheap labor is available, we should use it, and deploy our intellectual and financial resources elsewhere. Ideally this would eventually include investments which would make those people more prosperous, and once they have better opportunities, then see about investing our capital in robots. Regrettably, billions who might otherwise have these opportunities have been deprived - in no small part due to political problems, such as oppressive governments, corruption, and violence.

Immigrants (and migrants) are people, not externalities. Walling them out of the land of prosperity (and recession notwithstanding, the US is a land of prosperity) doesn't leave them or the land of prosperity any more prosperous.

Re:This would solve... (5, Insightful)

benjamindees (441808) | more than 2 years ago | (#38039556)

Humans consume resources. If you're concerned about limited resources, you should be concerned with limiting human population growth. Hiring immigrants does exactly the opposite -- it subsidizes population growth and provides a "relief valve" for failed governments.

I'll repeat that for you in case you missed it. Welcoming immigrants simply perpetuates the poverty and the oppressive governments you seem to be so concerned about.

Walling most of them out would absolutely make us more prosperous, because we have more resources per capita than anywhere on Earth. In the long run it would make them more prosperous as well.

All I Can Say Is (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#38039564)

Shit.

Re:This would solve... (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#38039308)

not everyone who does that work hates it. put them in office work or standing on their feet all day not moving around, and dealing with customerbots and managerdroids...not good. it can be hard, tedious. but so is spreading tar on roofs, flosting cement, or working in a slaughter house. I know what I'd pick before those jobs...

Re:This would solve... (2, Interesting)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#38039496)

Depends on the farm. A smaller farm owned by a family might be best off with some bots like this, assuming a reasonable price. Hiring people is expensive. Employee theft, insurance needed for lawsuits, payroll taxes, hiring supervisors, dealing with unemployment claims, etc. Large farms have the infrastructure for this. Smaller family farms are better served by dealing with getting something mechanical/electronic working that can do a basic job well.

I've been seeing this with some crops. An acquaintance has a tractor that is completely automated when it comes to tilling, planting, and harvesting. He sets GPS beacons, fills the tractor up with fuel, and at the right schedule the thing moves around the farm, stopping when the wheat hopper is full for manual dumping, and when that is done, the tractor continues where it left off.

There is no shame in automating these cheap jobs. This means that migrant kids actually might get to go to school instead of going to age 18 with not even a completed elementary school education because they are in the fields.

China is doing this too... they know that the US has the ability to stop food shipments at any time, so have been developing technologies to make arable land in the Sahel and other parts of Africa to feed their population, and part of that is automated tilling/planting/irrigation/harvesting.

Re:This would solve... (3, Funny)

Fnord666 (889225) | more than 2 years ago | (#38039618)

Not too long ago I was looking into what it would cost to build a (nearly) fully automated greenhouse. The problem is, no matter how efficient or clever your system is, you simply cannot compete with the cost of human labor at the very bottom of the skills spectrum.

That's easy enough to fix. Just have the workers unionize. That will triple the cost of your human labor right there and then your robots become cost effective.

Re:This would solve... (2)

gregor-e (136142) | more than 2 years ago | (#38039620)

Let's look at some numbers, then. Assuming these bots have a relatively low cost of operation, (big if, I know), and they each cost $30K, and you need at least a 100% in three-year return, then you'd have to generate $10K/year of utility. The minimum cost for people is $7.50/hour minimum wage (a grossly under-accurate simplification). Assuming the robots can be kept busy, and assuming their time must be worth $10K/year, their hourly cost becomes 10000 / (365 * 24) or $1.14 / hour. In the video, they don't appear to meed much supervision. At least, just for the task of shuffling pots back and forth between defined areas. It sounds as though you had a capacity utilization problem. Did your automation sit idle most of the day?

Re:This would solve... (1)

benjamindees (441808) | more than 2 years ago | (#38039726)

More likely it was a "cost of capital" problem. As in, the artificial cost of capital is manipulated by the US central bank in order to prevent small-scale automation. Not knowing this is a surefire way to invest in a dishwashing robot right before the borders are opened, a war is started, and interest rates lowered in order to consolidate the control of productive capital in the hands of the central bankers. Good luck paying off your business loan when Mexicans willing to work for $2/hr are knocking down your door looking for work and all the trained Americans are either dying in some third world dirt farm or making twice as much doing nothing on Wall St.

Re:This would solve... (1)

wanzeo (1800058) | more than 2 years ago | (#38039858)

Assuming the robots can be kept busy, and assuming their time must be worth $10K/year, their hourly cost becomes 10000 / (365 * 24) or $1.14 / hour. In the video, they don't appear to meed much supervision. At least, just for the task of shuffling pots back and forth between defined areas. It sounds as though you had a capacity utilization problem. Did your automation sit idle most of the day?

That is the big issue, in a greenhouse, yes, it must sit idle most of the time. Plants are slow. Also, a productive automation system needs to do a lot more than shuffle pots. There are some other factors involved in a complete automation setup.

For instance, say you want to automate the greenhouse for month long intervals (or longer) between visits because you don't live where you bought the land/warehouse space. There is a lot that can go wrong during a month, so everything has to work. You need to monitor water, air, light, and nutrient quality, and adjust it accordingly. Plants must be transplanted, harvested, and packaged at intervals (really complicated), not to mention that there would be different procedures for different plant varieties. Something has to monitor the plants for bugs or disease, which I honestly haven't figured out. On top of the complexity, there is a lot of power required to run all of that, especially the lights required in high latitudes near me. Definitely more than some hundred watt droids.

I would love to do it, for sure, but at this point it just makes more economic sense to do it with humans, outside, at low latitudes.

Re:This would solve... (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#38039880)

For instance, say you want to automate the greenhouse for month long intervals (or longer) between visits because you don't live where you bought the land/warehouse space. There is a lot that can go wrong during a month, so everything has to work. You need to monitor water, air, light, and nutrient quality, and adjust it accordingly. Plants must be transplanted, harvested, and packaged at intervals (really complicated), not to mention that there would be different procedures for different plant varieties. Something has to monitor the plants for bugs or disease, which I honestly haven't figured out. On top of the complexity, there is a lot of power required to run all of that, especially the lights required in high latitudes near me. Definitely more than some hundred watt droids.

emphasis added to strengthen my (hopefully humorous) point

It looks to me like you've got a grow somewhere in southern California....

Re:This would solve... (1)

rossdee (243626) | more than 2 years ago | (#38039812)

"expensive ones will cost much more than a minimum wage laborer."

And of course the whole point of illegals is you don't have to pay them minimum wage.

Re:This would solve... (2)

soundguy (415780) | more than 2 years ago | (#38039826)

This is square peg/ round hole stuff. It's generally not cost effective to force machinery into a role that was defined by the task itself to be done by human labor. "Farming", as it has existed for thousands of years, is the problem here. The solution is to throw away the entire process and build it from scratch to be handled entirely by machinery. Then it's simply not necessary to worry about "humanoid" machinery and its inherent problems and weaknesses.

Build hydroponic beds in layers a hundred feet high. Make infrastructure weigh tons if that's more efficient and resilient. Machinery and hydraulics are orders of magnitude faster and more powerful than mere humans. Use those strengths to redefine the entire food and organic materials production industries the way it redefined the heavy industries of the 20th century. Ever watch a robot stuff tiny components into a machine-made PC board? Ever watch a wave-soldering machine? The electronics we are all using right now to participate in this forum wouldn't even be possible if millions of our devices had to be built by hand using microscopes and tweezers, regardless of how little the workers were paid. The entire modern electronic age was built with machines. It's time for the production of our food to be automated too.

Re:This would solve... (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#38039206)

wetbacks are cheaper

Re:This would solve... (1)

xmorg (718633) | more than 2 years ago | (#38039238)

DER took ERE JERRB1!!!!!

Visions (4, Interesting)

NEDHead (1651195) | more than 2 years ago | (#38039036)

of Silent Running come to mind

Re:Visions (1)

MichaelSmith (789609) | more than 2 years ago | (#38039300)

Yes I suppose the time will come when people who need surgery will just download the appropriate software into their gardener and press start.

Re:Visions (1)

jhoegl (638955) | more than 2 years ago | (#38039622)

If only they spoke six million forms of binary

Hook it up to Facebook (5, Insightful)

grantek (979387) | more than 2 years ago | (#38039052)

If you need a bit better pattern recognition or control there's thousands of people willing to do farming from their PCs for free.

Re:Hook it up to Facebook (1)

BenJCarter (902199) | more than 2 years ago | (#38039244)

Very interesting idea! Might be tough on the veggies while folks learn though. Maybe a mandatory training course?

Re:Hook it up to Facebook (2)

Fnord666 (889225) | more than 2 years ago | (#38039536)

Very interesting idea! Might be tough on the veggies while folks learn though. Maybe a mandatory training course?

The first few levels are virtual, but at some point the user's proficiency reaches a threshold, and they start moving actual plants. No need to tell them that though.

It will never be cheaper (0)

Osgeld (1900440) | more than 2 years ago | (#38039070)

than paying a mexican 2 bucks a day.

This is obviously the future (5, Interesting)

Dr. Spork (142693) | more than 2 years ago | (#38039084)

The efficiency of farming (yield value per area+inputs) is going to have to grow a lot as global population increases and gets richer. This is obviously one step in that direction. Sure, this robot is laughably primitive compared to Google's self-driving car, but future generations will do better. I think that in 20 years, we'll be able to intersperse multiple simultaneous crops in the same field, which is good for the soil, reduces the need for fertilizer and pesticide, and generates a more value.

The most important reason why we don't see this sort of farming on a large scale is because it requires much more fine-motor work and is incompatible with the machines we use today. But once those machines get substantially cheaper and more dexterous than people, I think we'll make this transition. Our food will be better for it, and there will be more of it. I don't think that this is very far off in the future.

Re:This is obviously the future (2)

MrQuacker (1938262) | more than 2 years ago | (#38039152)

I envision a design more akin to those cargo-container gantry cranes they use at ports. With multiple arms hanging below the chassis to tend to tasks. That way the bulk of the robot can be above the plants, with the slim supports/wheels being able to navigate in-between rows of plants.

Re:This is obviously the future (1)

benjamindees (441808) | more than 2 years ago | (#38039304)

That's exactly what automatic grape harvesters look like, but I don't think it's the most economical design. Land is cheap. Good wine land is unbelievably expensive. When you're replacing the most expensive part of the production process, human labor, you can afford to spread out a little.

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Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#38039194)

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Re:This is obviously the future (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#38039212)

The most important reason why we don't see this sort of farming on a large scale is because it requires much more fine-motor work and is incompatible with the machines we use today. But once those machines get substantially cheaper and more dexterous than people, I think we'll make this transition. Our food will be better for it, and there will be more of it. I don't think that this is very far off in the future.

At some point, I can see a herd of mini-transfarmers scouring a field 24/7, plucking anything that is not crop or beneficial insect. Organic farming with the equivalent yield and protection of current pesticide solutions. Awesome stuff.

Re:This is obviously the future (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#38039548)

They also need to solar powered.

Re:This is obviously the future (5, Interesting)

DigiShaman (671371) | more than 2 years ago | (#38039216)

I'm a bit concerned about all of this advancement to support extended population growth. My gut feeling is that we are just setting up ourselves for a big fall the more we detach ourselves from nature. Like a house of cards. It can only go so high before the entire system collapses. It's just a matter of when. For example, a high-altitude nuclear warhead my never cause bodily harm. But the EMP it releases is enough to shutdown entire nations with all microchips fried. That means no transportation and running water. Within weeks, people start dieing and bodies decomposing where they last crawled for survival. Truly scary stuff.

Re:This is obviously the future (1)

benjamindees (441808) | more than 2 years ago | (#38039312)

I'm a bit concerned about all of this advancement to support extended population growth.

Then you should be building these and using them yourself, and making them open source, instead of letting places like MIT perfect them only to throw them down the memory hole in sacrifice to the risk-aggregating monster that is the Federal Reserve system.

Re:This is obviously the future (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#38039502)

Commercial agg in ornamentals is not very good with space utilization. It's all about getting to the market a good enough looking plant to make more attractive. In a pot of those sizes the tops (depending) on the species requires large space. The spacing they mention is moving the pots further as they grow. That spacing requires a lot of man power and larger nurseries can't hire enough people legal or illegal for those tasks. Willoway is a gigantic wholesale nursery which is why that company is testing with them and other larger nurseries.

Re:This is obviously the future (3)

Fnord666 (889225) | more than 2 years ago | (#38039570)

I'm a bit concerned about all of this advancement to support extended population growth. My gut feeling is that we are just setting up ourselves for a big fall the more we detach ourselves from nature. Like a house of cards. It can only go so high before the entire system collapses. It's just a matter of when. For example, a high-altitude nuclear warhead my never cause bodily harm. But the EMP it releases is enough to shutdown entire nations with all microchips fried. That means no transportation and running water. Within weeks, people start dieing and bodies decomposing where they last crawled for survival. Truly scary stuff.

I hate to be the one to break it to you, but we are way past that point already. Modern farm equipment has more electronics than your car does. These would just be a bit of icing on the cake.

Re:This is obviously the future (-1)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#38039810)

You're an idiot.

Re:This is obviously the future (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#38039930)

Good news: your gut feeling performs worse than random.

Re:This is obviously the future (1)

flyingfsck (986395) | more than 2 years ago | (#38039234)

Eventually, global warming will open up the tundra for farming. As the planet keeps warming up, it can sustain more life, which is fine until the next cooling cycle starts in 10,000 years or so.

Of course . . . (3, Insightful)

StefanJ (88986) | more than 2 years ago | (#38039398)

. . . while the tundra is warming (and turning into swamps, not arable farmland), the vast subtropical regions where most of the world's population lives will be subject to desertification and/or devastating storms.

Harsh winters are GOOD for agriculture. They stir up the soil and kill off insects and weeds. We'll be getting fewer of those hard winters as things warm up.

Robot farmhands are nice for societies with lots of excess wealth. Don't expect them to save our asses.

Re:Of course . . . (1)

benjamindees (441808) | more than 2 years ago | (#38039428)

Right, it's little comfort to me as I watch fifty years of topsoil dry up and blow away as a plague of locusts and beetles devour my crops, knowing that somewhere in Canada, timberland with no roads or civilization within 100 miles is now suitable for human food production.

Re:Of course . . . (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#38039504)

Saskatchewan's Provincial Tree is located in downtown Regina, thank you very much. Manitoba's died from the cold years ago.

Re:This is obviously the future (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#38039670)

Hate to break it to you, but we're ALREADY supposed to be in a cooling cycle. We should have already been in an ice age. One theory is the domestication of cattle increased the methane in the atmosphere.

Re:This is obviously the future (3, Interesting)

msobkow (48369) | more than 2 years ago | (#38039246)

we'll be able to intersperse multiple simultaneous crops in the same field...

The most important reason why we don't see this sort of farming on a large scale is because it requires much more fine-motor work...

Soil degrades if you don't mix your crops over time, but it's not a process that would "leach" from one small plot to it's neighbour. As long as crops are rotated annually, you're good to go. Bigger machines are more efficient at harvesting. Having multiple crop types also means needing multiple machine types, adding to expense.

As far as I know, small plots were only used for family produce by the old family farms, but the bulk of the land was turned over quarter by quarter to specific crops. Things may be different in vegetable or fruit farms/orchards, but we don't really have those in Saskatchewan.

Re:This is obviously the future (5, Insightful)

LordLucless (582312) | more than 2 years ago | (#38039546)

The efficiency of farming (yield value per area+inputs) is going to have to grow a lot as global population increases and gets richer

Not necessarily. Using the most modern farming techniques, we produce far more food than the population that grows it actually requires. The problem is, the areas that have the largest (and most quickly growing) populations, are the areas that use the least effective farming techniques.

Apart from stopping the wars that suck up their manpower, and pillage their crops, getting modern farming in widespread use in the third world is the big step to combating world hunger. And if the pattern is anything like what we've seen, once their standard of living is raised, they stop having as many children, and population will taper off. Much of the western world (US and Australia I know for sure) is currently at below-replacement levels of reproduction.

Runaway (2)

Gr8Apes (679165) | more than 2 years ago | (#38039086)

And visions of Tom Selleck shooting our garden tending overlords appear in my mind....

Re:Runaway (1)

MichaelSmith (789609) | more than 2 years ago | (#38039310)

Will they run on 8086 CPUs?

If these have the impact of the "cotton gin"... (1)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#38039090)

... vast social changes will ensue.

From my hazy recollection of American history, the cotton (en)gin(e), made it possible to process cotton with a lot less labor making slaves less necessary(?) and set the stage for the civil war. Or something like that.

So if these machines (or their descendants) fundamentally change the labor equation in the farm fields of America, we'll see its impact on the immigration debate. Sort of how UAVs are changing aerial warfare and how things like "Big Dog" will eventually change ground combat.

Kudos to the previous poster and his reference to Huey, Dewey and Louie. (Anybody remember which one survived?)

Re:If these have the impact of the "cotton gin"... (4, Informative)

Jeff DeMaagd (2015) | more than 2 years ago | (#38039126)

From my hazy recollection of American history, the cotton (en)gin(e), made it possible to process cotton with a lot less labor making slaves less necessary(?) and set the stage for the civil war. Or something like that.

The general idea of your post may be correct, but I think it's the opposite. The cotton gin made slaves more necessary to the south (or at least so they believed) because it made seed-heavy cotton varieties into a viable crop. This cotton would grow well where other crops didn't. Without the gin, the plant wouldn't have been economical and slavery would have continued to gradually fade. Some of this is conjecture, it's hard to speculate accurately on possible alternative paths of history, but slavery was supposedly declining before the cotton gin was made available.

Re:If these have the impact of the "cotton gin"... (2)

ShanghaiBill (739463) | more than 2 years ago | (#38039162)

... the cotton (en)gin(e), made it possible to process cotton with a lot less labor making slaves less necessary(?)

Nope. By reducing the necessary labor, the cotton gin made the cotton business far more profitable, thus increasing the demand for slaves to grow and harvest the cotton.

Agricultural robots may have a similar effect. By making labor intensive crops (strawberries, fruit, vegetables, etc.) more profitable, production will shift in that direction instead of crops like grain that require little labor. But since not all tasks can be easily automated, the demand for human farm labor may go up instead of down.

Re:If these have the impact of the "cotton gin"... (1)

Samantha Wright (1324923) | more than 2 years ago | (#38039520)

This is actually one of the major arguments for automation, besides technological advancement. The jobs go elsewhere, to where purchases made with gained profits and increased wages direct them. And here I was thinking that CISC 497 would never teach me anything I didn't already know.

Let 3rd world workers do it instead (-1)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#38039098)

Wouldn't it be cheaper to relax the rules and allow short stay, cheaper labour from very poor countries to do the work? Surely this would be better then replacing the workers with robots when there is such a huge pool of underutilised labour in the developing world that would jump at the chance to do such work.

Re:Let 3rd world workers do it instead (0)

Nutria (679911) | more than 2 years ago | (#38039138)

there is such a huge pool of underutilised labour in the developing world that would jump at the chance to do such work.

Except that there's already a huge pool of underutilized labor in the US. They'd, though, rather demand a government check for doing nothing.

Re:Let 3rd world workers do it instead (1)

MrQuacker (1938262) | more than 2 years ago | (#38039258)

We were told we need to go to school and get our degrees in order to avoid ending in a dead end job mowing lawns or flipping burgers. Now we're out of school, with degrees, with no jobs for us, and we're berated and jeered at because we refuse to flip burgers and mow lawns.

Re:Let 3rd world workers do it instead (1)

WindBourne (631190) | more than 2 years ago | (#38039336)

BS. I know LOADS of kids around my area that will be HAPPY to flip burgers and mow lawns. The problem is that many of the fast foods are owned by foreigners and hired loads of hispanics that can not speak any english, and who obviously do not live in this area. IOW, they are racists, so the local kids suffer.

Re:Let 3rd world workers do it instead (3, Insightful)

Reziac (43301) | more than 2 years ago | (#38039494)

And it wasn't that long ago (just a generation or two) that our kids did all the same work that illegals do today. Every kid had a summer job, on the farm or in some related capacity.

I've sometimes thought that a required period of such labour (perhaps earning college money in escrow) would put a different perspective into the heads of today's youth.

Re:Let 3rd world workers do it instead (1)

benjamindees (441808) | more than 2 years ago | (#38039744)

I tend to think required death panels would put a different perspective in the heads of the geezers...

Re:Let 3rd world workers do it instead (1)

Nutria (679911) | more than 2 years ago | (#38039374)

we're out of school, with degrees, with no jobs for us

What kind of degrees?

Re:Let 3rd world workers do it instead (2)

wanzeo (1800058) | more than 2 years ago | (#38039718)

Now we're out of school, with degrees, with no jobs for us, and we're berated and jeered at because we refuse to flip burgers and mow lawns.

I will refer you to this [cracked.com] , which I saw on reddit the other day. It is interesting.

Also, I attribute the economic pain we are feeling now on the effects of the world slowly approaches an "average" standard of living. So as the very large third world get a slightly bit richer, the very small first world must get a LOT poorer.

So the "I did everything I was told, I have a college degree, and I demand to stay at my childhood standard of living" argument is valid, but simply not going to happen. In a world of limited resources, "fair" counts for absolutely nothing.

Re:Let 3rd world workers do it instead (1)

Jeremi (14640) | more than 2 years ago | (#38039394)

They'd, though, rather demand a government check for doing nothing.

Citation badly needed.

Re:Let 3rd world workers do it instead (2)

TheReaperD (937405) | more than 2 years ago | (#38039178)

Like slavery, society is growing less tolerant of the current situation of illegal labor. Though different people have different reasons for it, a large number of people will not tolerate the situation continuing as is. Some people are feeling this desire for change and are looking for other answers and these type of robots might be one of them. Either way, we're in the beginning of a new era where there are far more people to do labor than there is need for labor. Our next great challenge will be how we address all the people who are jobless due to their labor not being needed anymore. Though there is a lot of talk of retraining for higher skilled jobs, it will not be long until robots can replace doctors, engineers, scientists, programmers and other high skilled jobs and not all of the people will be able to make that leap in the first place. Right now, things are not looking so good for us as a society.

Re:Let 3rd world workers do it instead (1)

WindBourne (631190) | more than 2 years ago | (#38039360)

Poppycock. If we send back all of the illegals, then our unemployment will be around 5%. Then we move forward on automation. That is what we did from the mid 1800-1980. Starting in 1980, our nation was gutted by 2 presidents. They encouraged the outsourcing of manufacturing, as well as bringing loads of illegals. Heck, one of the 2 idiots gave amnesty to all of the illegals, but then did NOTHING to prevent future illegals.

We need to modify HR2885 to be a bit stronger, as well as add a modified dream act to it (treat the victims differently from the criminals). Those that were raised here, speak english (i.e. culturally are Americans), are in school, or have a GED or better, and have no legal issues (other than being illegal) and have ZERO association with gangs, should be allowed to earn citizenship after completing all of the previous and doing service for America. HR2885 requires e-verify. Not a total solution, but far far better than what we have. In addition, once all businesses are required to use it, it is VERY effective.

Re:Let 3rd world workers do it instead (1)

ewieling (90662) | more than 2 years ago | (#38039476)

Alabama recently passed a "tough new immigration law". It has not helped the unemployment rate. Americans don't WANT tough, dirty, low paying farm work.

<URL:http://www.washingtonpost.com/opinions/how-alabamas-immigration-law-is-crippling-its-farms/2011/11/01/gIQAg0JvjM_story.html>

<URL:http://www.pbs.org/newshour/bb/business/july-dec11/makingsense_10-28.html>

<URL:http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2011/10/21/after-alabama-immigration-law-few-americans-taking-immigrants-work_n_1023635.html>

http://www.msnbc.msn.com/id/44981872/ns/us_news-life/t/few-americans-take-immigrants-jobs-alabama/

Re:Let 3rd world workers do it instead (1)

BenJCarter (902199) | more than 2 years ago | (#38039274)

Why mod this down? It sounds like a valid immigration question. Or are there some secret code words we can't use on /. that I don't know about? I personally like the idea of making it easy to come to America and be productive. I would vastly prefer a simple, regulated system, to the cluster f^%k of conflicting rules that make up the current immigration morass.

Re:Let 3rd world workers do it instead (2, Insightful)

WindBourne (631190) | more than 2 years ago | (#38039370)

BS. America can not afford to outsource everything. It is destroying us. Far far better to automate the low end jobs. As it is, even the illegals are not working those. Less than 5% of all illegals work in Ag. The majority work in Service (restaurants, janitorial, etc) and CONSTRUCTION. How good of pay is in Construction? Well, many of these illegals are under paid at 60K/year. How do they make 60/year? They do not pay taxes. Far better to automate the Ag portions (easier to do than you can believe), much of the service, and even parts of construction. Then not only will we have much lower unemployment (send back all illegals except for those that qualify for dream act; that would give us about 5% unemployment), but we would have less drains on gov. and improved tax collections.

Re:Let 3rd world workers do it instead (1)

benjamindees (441808) | more than 2 years ago | (#38039326)

No, it wouldn't be cheaper. When they come here, they don't leave. They vote illegally in our fraudulent elections. They take jobs building unnecessary houses stolen from middle-class savers by the Federal Reserve's inflation tax. They send all of their earnings back to their home countries. They have five kids who are educated for free in our public schools. And they get all of their medical care from emergency rooms.

It's not fucking cheaper at all.

Re:Let 3rd world workers do it instead (1)

benjamindees (441808) | more than 2 years ago | (#38039330)

Oh and I forgot the most important part -- our criminal government uses them as an excuse to turn the US into an Orwellian nightmare.

Re:Let 3rd world workers do it instead (1)

WindBourne (631190) | more than 2 years ago | (#38039328)

No. Only an idiot would think that. The fact that somebody comes to the west to work says that even below minimum wages, they are making more than they make in other nations. So, that means that costs of goods is STILL TOO EXPENSIVE. To lower the costs, you have to automate. Simply outsourcing will only serve to destroy the west and turn it into looking like Central America or Northern Africa (poor and uneducated).

Derk er (1, Funny)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#38039146)

Dey derk er jebs!

Silent Running (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#38039156)

huey dewey and louie

Re:Silent Running (1)

MichaelSmith (789609) | more than 2 years ago | (#38039318)

I was thinking more Neil Young [metrolyrics.com]

Picture with their handler (4, Informative)

theshowmecanuck (703852) | more than 2 years ago | (#38039166)

Here is a picture [newscientist.com] of the agro robots. It's OK, there are no goats around.

Re:Picture with their handler (1)

DigiShaman (671371) | more than 2 years ago | (#38039252)

What, you don't want an automated orange juice bot [penny-arcade.com] ? You don't know what you're missing,

Old News (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#38039200)

There are several companies that have been selling robots that milk cows for about 10 years.

Re:Old News (1)

mbstone (457308) | more than 2 years ago | (#38039424)

See, this is the problem. A human can milk a cow within about 15 minutes.

After 9 1/2 years or so of being robo-milked, a typical cow is udderly exhausted.

Re:Old News (1)

benjamindees (441808) | more than 2 years ago | (#38039458)

15 minutes, twice a day, for nine years, is 100,000 hours of human labor. How long do you think it takes to birth a new cow?

That isn't the problem. The problem is that our goddamn government and banking system SUBSIDIZES HUMANS SO THAT THEY CAN DO SHITTY JOBS FOR SLAVE WAGES.

by keeping track of wheel rotations (1)

Lumos4idea (1228834) | more than 2 years ago | (#38039208)

What are the chances of the wheel not getting stuck in one location...still rotating like it happens with our normal wheels? Wouldn't that also count as "movement" by this principle?

Much room for farm bots (3, Insightful)

flyingfsck (986395) | more than 2 years ago | (#38039214)

Pruning and harvesting trees is a difficult problem to solve, but mathematically very interesting. After all, what is the best way to prune an apple tree or a vine? Ask two farm workers how to prune the same tree and you will get a long discussion with no definite answer, but there certainly is method in the madness, which could be reduced to a tree algorithm. This is the 21st century evolution of the the 20th century automatic harvesters for simple grain/grass crops.

This idea is not new. (1)

bejiitas_wrath (825021) | more than 2 years ago | (#38039230)

I saw this idea in a book from my school library in the 80's along with many other fantastic ideas such as hosting the 2000 Olympics on the Moon and a transatlantic tunnel. I believed that by the year 2000, we would have such fantastic technology and be freed of the burden of hard manual labour by robots and be free to pursue other endeavours. But roll on 2011 and now we are only just testing this technology.

But I guess the future is taking longer than I thought to become a reality. But then again if robots were doing everything for us then what would we do? We would find something I guess, you would have more time for many other pursuits if you had a team of agricultural robots taking care of all the harvesting, sowing and herding the sheep in to be shorn. And even baling the wool for you. There would still be jobs to maintain those robots and program them. Unless they learn to program and repair/manufacture themselves...

Re:This idea is not new. (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#38039286)

The Kids Whole Future Catalog was an odd book. It even had a version of leet speek.

Re:This idea is not new. (1)

Beardydog (716221) | more than 2 years ago | (#38039528)

"The wars of the future will not be fought on the battlefield or at sea. They will be fought in space, or possibly on top of a very tall mountain. In either case, most of the actual fighting will be done by small robots. And as you go forth today remember always your duty is clear: To build and maintain those robots."

This is needed like 10 years ago (5, Insightful)

WindBourne (631190) | more than 2 years ago | (#38039288)

America, in fact the west, has a serious issue with illegals. However, the west, is by far, the worst. We have neo-cons that encourage illegals to be here working for below prevailing wages, while not paying taxes. Then we have dems leaders that push for amnesty and allowing more illegals in, as long as they get amnesty. That is just plain twisted. Now, why do these illegals come to America (and canada, EU, UK, and Australia)? Because even below minimum wage, they still make more money than what they make in their own nations. The problem is that western levels of goods, count on taxes being paid as well as re-investment in the local economy. As such illegals who work in the nation, but then send the money out of the nation, are just as bad as those that outsource to China who manipulates money, dumps monster amounts of pollution on the planet (in 2015, China will dump more than 50% of all CO2; in 2019 +-, they will have accounted for 1/2 of ALL co2 that man has ever emitted, and that assumed a slower growth path then they are on; worse, it does not include their SO2, mercury, lead, chemical pollutions, etc, etc, etc that are dumped in the Sea of China, The pacific ocean, and in our shared airs). Basically, Illegals are not cheap enough to warrent keeping them here, and the real costs is the damage to western society. Those libs that back giving jobs to illegals because they deserve it are about as stupid as as the neo-cons: they will destroy the west and esp. America, due to lack of thought.

The only real way to save the west, and ultimately, the world, is to automate. In particular, food should be automated. Right now, less than 2% of American labor goes into Ag. One of the bigger issues is that we now import a lot of food. But we increasingly import shrimp from farms in South America and Asia. How bad are these? HORRIBLE. Both use loads of anti-biotics. IN addition, they do it not in isolated ponds, but along the shoreline. THis is some of the most important areas on the earth, and it is being destroyed to send sickly shrimp to the west. Insane.
Likewise, we get loads of food from China. Hell, Nestle is now producing candy in China. SICK. At this time, upper middle class Chinese buy food from USA, Canada, Australia, and EU. Why? Because they know that the good that is coming from China is loaded with mercury, lead, and many other pollutants. And this is happening again, because China is cheating, and companies like Nestle are greedy as all hell.

Ever been on a Chinese commercial fishing boat? I have talked to a fishery person that was working on one to make certain that China was not stealing or mis-labelling. She was telling afterwards that she no longer eats fish unless it is from USA, Canada, EU, UK, or Japan. She tells me that China was the worst. Disgusting conditions.

Robotics will solve a lot of these issues. We can grow our own shrimp here cheaper than importing them. Likewise, the same is true of veggies, fish, etc.

It is time for America, and the west, to take a stand and say enough is enough. We need to quit backing those that pollute and destroy our planet. Time to put a tax on all goods based on pollution from where they come from.

Re:This is needed like 10 years ago (1)

MichaelSmith (789609) | more than 2 years ago | (#38039342)

Now, why do these illegals come to America (and canada, EU, UK, and Australia)?

Hardly at all in Australia because our border is pretty much impossible to cross. If there was a land bridge to Indonesia it would be a different story. Though I should point out that I know this guy, a civil engineer, from Malaysia who moved here recently and got a job inspecting tilt up concrete slabs. Workers are paid below the legal minimum and don't seem to get their benefits. Many of them may not have work visas. So there is a grey labor market here but its not not as overt as it is in the US. My one time there I stayed with friends in New York city. Every household in that building seemed to have a Mexican woman doing their laundry and looking after their kids.

Re:This is needed like 10 years ago (1)

WindBourne (631190) | more than 2 years ago | (#38039410)

You folks have a much bigger illegal issue than you realize. The problem is that your unemployment is low, so your gov. is ignoring it. The only reason for low unemployment is that China is buying your resources. They have started with their real estate bubble popping. It is expected that concrete and iron bubbles will pop in about 3 months. Once they do, they will quit importing iron and Calcium Silicate (cement). They are about to slow down their buying. And where have they imported the majority from for the last 20 years? Exactly. Once that happens, your unemployment will likely shift from the current 5 to over 10. At that time, you will find out that you have LOADS of illegals. They are ppl that came on a visa, but the visa expired, however, they stayed. And I suspect that once that happens, your citizens will scream to end illegals. BTW, other than Latin Americans, the vast majority of illegals here are on expired visas. Illegal Latin Americans doing labor represents over 85% of illegals. But about 10% which are Indians, Chinese, Europeans, Canadians, Australians, etc. are the expired visa's doing upper end jobs.

Re:This is needed like 10 years ago (1)

MichaelSmith (789609) | more than 2 years ago | (#38039678)

That resources boom is pushing up the value of the aussie dollar and threatening to move my engineering job to Europe. Ending it would give me job security.

Re:This is needed like 10 years ago (1)

WindBourne (631190) | more than 2 years ago | (#38039690)

There you go. Of course, the company may lose so many sales that they have to let you go. Damned if you do, damned if you don't.

Re:This is needed like 10 years ago (1)

pbjones (315127) | more than 2 years ago | (#38039416)

lots of illegals in Australia, but we only care about those that come by boat, the backpackers and students that over stay visas and work on farms are tolerated, wtf?

Re:This is needed like 10 years ago (1)

MichaelSmith (789609) | more than 2 years ago | (#38039598)

lots of illegals in Australia, but we only care about those that come by boat, the backpackers and students that over stay visas and work on farms are tolerated, wtf?

Illegals in Australia are small in number because of our oceanic border. Its not that they are tolerated, just that there aren't many of them.

From the title (1)

Megahard (1053072) | more than 2 years ago | (#38039290)

I thought it was a mobile app for automated gold farming.

Cost efficient with lasers but no gps (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#38039292)

I don't get this bit, the robots have laser rangefinders but no GPS, when a GPS chip is 10$ if mass purchased? And an xbee module would be 10$ more, so you can mass control them... Something doesn't add up here...

Bye bye jobs... (1)

DMJC (682799) | more than 2 years ago | (#38039294)

and so it begins... the complete elimination of human labor by the upper classes. So once agriculture and mining are completely automated (and they will be, just wait until we have robots to haul off broken/malfunctioning ones for recycle/repair.) and they've automated all manufacturing (see Foxconn in China) How long will it take for people to get fedup with 1% of the population controlling all the resources leaving everyone else with nothing? If food, mineral and energy production can all be automated why should any of us have to work to live? I'm sure someone will come up with some religious/moral BS as to why we should work. There needs to be a societal overhaul if these technologies do end up being viable. Communism didn't work when you had to wait 5 years to get a car, but if that same car can be built in 30 mins by robots, using resources mined by robots, should anyone really have to go without a car?

in the past worker jammed up the works in the new (1)

Joe_Dragon (2206452) | more than 2 years ago | (#38039378)

and so it begins... the complete elimination of human labor by the upper classes. So once agriculture and mining are completely automated (and they will be, just wait until we have robots to haul off broken/malfunctioning ones for recycle/repair.) and they've automated all manufacturing (see Foxconn in China) How long will it take for people to get fedup with 1% of the population controlling all the resources leaving everyone else with nothing? If food, mineral and energy production can all be automated why should any of us have to work to live? I'm sure someone will come up with some religious/moral BS as to why we should work. There needs to be a societal overhaul if these technologies do end up being viable. Communism didn't work when you had to wait 5 years to get a car, but if that same car can be built in 30 mins by robots, using resources mined by robots, should anyone really have to go without a car?

in the past workers jammed up the works in the new Machines and hackers will be a big risk.

Re:Bye bye jobs... (1)

benjamindees (441808) | more than 2 years ago | (#38039382)

if that same car can be built in 30 mins by robots, using resources mined by robots, should anyone really have to go without a car?

Depends. Did you help to build that robot, or did you join a union and vote for "progressive" taxes and have five kids and do all the things that the most ignorant class in America enjoys doing in order to thwart true progress?

Do you realize that resources are finite, but that human population grows exponentially? Do you recognize the coming clusterfuck we will have to deal with as a civilization when medical technology doubles our effective lifespan and old people still own 99% of the Earth while the young can't find jobs?

Green Acres 2011 remake (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#38039334)

Eddie Albert: "The chores!"

Eva Gabor: "The stores!"

Steve Wozniak: "The cores!"

About time (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#38039444)

We've been running version 1.0, a.k.a. "exploiting illegal immigrants" for too long.

Huey, Dewie, and Louie (1)

Weaselmancer (533834) | more than 2 years ago | (#38039616)

I'm just throwing this out there for the other five people that have seen this movie and know what I am talking about.

Re:Huey, Dewie, and Louie (1)

MichaelSmith (789609) | more than 2 years ago | (#38039660)

Not the young ones obviously. But I think the more obvious reference is star wars. I imagine C3PO roaming an Australian cattle station ambushing cows and annoying them into going in for muster.

Agricultural robots... (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#38039658)

Clifford Simak would have been pleased.

Re:Agricultural robots... (1)

MichaelSmith (789609) | more than 2 years ago | (#38039674)

An example? Most if the farmers I recall in his stories were real human people.

Probably better for a more controlled environment. (1)

Cheerio Boy (82178) | more than 2 years ago | (#38039778)

You can almost certainly do this on a standard farm but likely it's going to be much much easier to do this with a hydroponics setup with side rails allowing robots to move quickly up and down the rows to place and tend the plants.

The big thing in this type of scenario I think that would still require the "human touch" so to speak would be harvesting. You could probably handle that with video recognition and soft grippers but there's still a chance of damaging the plant while picking the fruit/vegetable.

And harvesting vined plants would be problematic to say the least. Large melons and squash that are ground fruit would be particularly difficult.

I don't see "farmbas" doing harvesting any time soon. Not cheaply at least.

Hank said it. (1)

koan (80826) | more than 2 years ago | (#38039958)

"“I went to the woods because I wished to live deliberately, to front only the essential facts of life, and see if I could not learn what it had to teach, and not, when I came to die, discover that I have not lived.”"
-Henry David Thoreau

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