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Bringing Affordable Robotics To Big Agriculture

Soulskill posted about a year ago | from the feed-all-humans-feed-all-humans dept.

Robotics 196

kkleiner writes "Boston-based Harvest Automation has made good on its mission to bring robots into the world of agriculture by introducing Harvey, a bot tasked with the rather modest job of moving plants around in nurseries and greenhouses because people aren't keen on doing the laborious work. At a price point of $30k each, two bots would cost the same as three unskilled human laborers who earn about $20k annually not to mention medical bills due to injury. Harvey's job may not be flashy, but considering the potted plant industry is valued at $50 billion, the bot's little impact could translate into significant money."

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Impressive. (5, Interesting)

mcgrew (92797) | about a year ago | (#44752153)

Living in the middle of Illinois there's a lot of farming news and farm shows around here, and you see an awful ot of impressive tech, and even science. They have self-driving combines and harvesters that use GPS, cell phone apps very useful to them (some control machinery), chemical testing of the spoil and plants available... you have to know a lot to farm these days.

I know someone's going to complain "BUT JOBS!!!" but the jobs the tech in TFA are jobs are jobs only the most desperate want. Agriculture has been constantly replacing jobs with technology for centuries. It takes fewer and fewr to feed more and more.

Someone's going to bring up GM, GM isn't used much around here, most seed is hybrid -- but the biochemists and agronomists have DNA study of the plants they breed.

There's a TV show that comes on here on Sunday morning at 5:30 AM and it's the only OTA show that's not an infomercial, and It's pretty interesting. Here's their website. [agphd.com] I'm not a farmer but it is pretty interesting.

I wouldn't consider potted plants "Big Agriculture." That's soybeans, corn, and wheat.

Re:Impressive. (1)

mcgrew (92797) | about a year ago | (#44752165)

Typo: Soil testing, not spoil testing. Fat fingers and I had a few beers.

Re:Impressive. (1)

Cryacin (657549) | about a year ago | (#44752881)

Spoiler alert! So many spelling Nazi's feel cheated now.

Re:Impressive. (2, Insightful)

Anonymous Coward | about a year ago | (#44752291)

We should be ready to support those on the bottom end. If you really want unstoppable efficiency then the govt has to subsidize labour to allow labour to survive. Not everyone needs a job, and it is about time we recognize that, but at the same time there's no sense making people's lives hell because they can't get one.

Re:Impressive. (0, Troll)

hedwards (940851) | about a year ago | (#44752487)

Because if you contribute something of value to society, you're supposed to be poor and grateful for what you have. If you're a member of the leech class, IE the rich, then you can sit around all day because having a lot of money is the justification for being allowed to sit on your ass. Never mind that you probably inherited the money rather than contributing to society.

Re:Impressive. (1)

Mitchell314 (1576581) | about a year ago | (#44752915)

I worked in a field (pun intended) tangential (also pun intended) to the ag indudustry, and I have heard about the self-driving farm equipment. What I gathered (hearsay) was that the discussed tractors still had to be manned for safety reasons. For some reason government regulatory agencies aren't too keen on the idea of heavy deadly machines roaming about unattended. Neither are the property holders/insurers of said million-dollar equipment too happy on having it unattended lest the software bug fairy decides to pay a visit in a financially inopportune way.

Re:Impressive. (1)

ShanghaiBill (739463) | about a year ago | (#44753061)

I worked in a field (pun intended) tangential (also pun intended) to the ag indudustry, and I have heard about the self-driving farm equipment. What I gathered (hearsay) was that the discussed tractors still had to be manned for safety reasons. For some reason government regulatory agencies aren't too keen on the idea of heavy deadly machines roaming about unattended. Neither are the property holders/insurers of said million-dollar equipment too happy on having it unattended lest the software bug fairy decides to pay a visit in a financially inopportune way.

I doubt if any of this is true. Why would someone buy unmanned machines that have to be manned? That would be pointless. Government agencies have little power to regulate what private individuals do on their own land, and even less when it involves agriculture. Farms are specifically exempted from many OSHA regulations, and even federal wage laws don't apply to agricultural workers.

Re:Impressive. (1)

Mitchell314 (1576581) | about a year ago | (#44753581)

Well doubt all you want, but I do know that the machines being talked about did have to be manned.

Its more like autopilot (2)

perpenso (1613749) | about a year ago | (#44753699)

Why would someone buy unmanned machines that have to be manned?

Think commercial aviation. Commercial aircraft fly around on autopilot a lot, they can even land themselves. Similarly the combines/tractors/etc are on autopilot. Precisely navigating the fields, precisely dispensing varied levels of fertilizer or pesticide as testing indicated. Such automation increases yields/profits.

Government agencies have little power to regulate what private individuals do on their own land, and even less when it involves agriculture.

That is so untrue. Do not confuse a lack of power with a decision to give a group with lobbyists a break.

Re:Impressive. (2)

ShanghaiBill (739463) | about a year ago | (#44753071)

We should be ready to support those on the bottom end.

The poor spend a disproportionate amount of their income on food, so they benefit the most from lower prices due to automation.

Re:Impressive. (1)

slick7 (1703596) | about a year ago | (#44753715)

We should be ready to support those on the bottom end.

The poor spend a disproportionate amount of their income on food, so they benefit the most from lower prices due to automation.

Really? And these same poor who spend a disproportionate amount of money on food, how do they pay for better housing, education, safer streets? The use of automation requires a greater knowledge base to maintain those systems, which means higher prices for the poor. Thereby forcing the poor to become a perpetual debt slave to the banksters that created this mess to begin with in 1913, signed into law by Woodrow Wilson who should be (have been) tried for treason.

Re:Impressive. (1)

dryeo (100693) | about a year ago | (#44753979)

And yet the price of food seems to be increasing faster then most anything else.

we also need to stop the big over time mindset (2)

Joe_Dragon (2206452) | about a year ago | (#44753171)

we also need to stop the big over time mindset that can drive 60-80+ work weeks. Why should some people being pulling them when others are not working.

Re:Impressive. (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a year ago | (#44753259)

"there's no sense making people's lives..." There fixed that for you. It's another carry-over from tech; the best possible outcome is for customers to be able to "self-service" their own problems. People have the ability to not make it hell right now, and that means stop producing children and then yelling at me when my tech advance does not result in a net-positive job gain and/or if it does, but the skills are non-transferable from existing jobs.

if you were starving to death, would you work? (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a year ago | (#44752453)

shoveling shit?

because that is literally where we are. you dont work, you die in the street or in prison.

Re:if you were starving to death, would you work? (2)

kermidge (2221646) | about a year ago | (#44753615)

I've shoveled manure, mucked out barns, dug ditches and footings, all by hand, and pumped septic tanks and cleaned sewers with low-end power tools and a pump truck. Not my all-time favorite work but it's honest and at the time paid just about enough to survive on (rent, food, utilities, maybe some books and brewskis.) When you're young and healthy it's OK. Later, no. This was all thirty to fifty years ago; I've no idea the spread of pay these days.

Re:Impressive. (1)

tragedy (27079) | about a year ago | (#44752661)

I know someone's going to complain "BUT JOBS!!!" but the jobs the tech in TFA are jobs are jobs only the most desperate want.

Well, yes, but if the jobs go away, then the most desperate won't get to work and die in the gutters. Not that I don't think such jobs should be replaced by technology. I absolutely think they should be. There needs to be a safety net for the people who end up structurally unemployed as a result, however.

Re:Impressive. (1)

GoodNewsJimDotCom (2244874) | about a year ago | (#44752743)

Lets just say the most of the world's industry food industry was done by robots. Then either stockholders in food held the world hostage to do work in other labors, there would be a style of welfare so everyone at least had enough food to survive, or a combination of the two. Sure, a man's job might be taken by a robot, but what was produced doesn't go away. If the owner of the robot wants to be nice, suddenly this man is free to study or work elsewhere and still have enough to eat. If the robot owner wants to be a prick, this man needs to work elsewhere asap or he won't have enough food to eat.

That is just how things are set up in today's society. We generally place a lot of demand on getting work accomplished in order to maximize producing stuff. In the first world countries, even the poor can generally manage to find a place to get food and a shelter. This is a sign that the system works to a degree.

Where things really break down is in the third world countries. In third world countries, people are starving to death! Really, 30 cents a day is the difference between growing up healthy and dying without a chance in third world countries. FAO [fao.org] did a study that says world hunger would for a large part go away if 30 billion a year could be donated. 30 billion a year adds up to about 5$/yr per person on Earth. Since some people can't give 5$/yr, it is the responsibility of us in civilized worlds to give the best we can. There's no justice in the world when millions of kids are starving to death.

So to conclude: Agricultural automation allows the world to produce more by freeing someone to do other work. There is no less food made. The problem lies in how to distribute the food at that point.

Re:Impressive. (1)

Dare nMc (468959) | about a year ago | (#44753037)

> World hunger would for a large part go away if 30 billion a year could be donated.

If only it was that simple. When you feed people, who (if a significant portion) only know how to produce food, you leave them with nothing much to do but have sex. Food is free, so they cannot afford to even try to produce food themselves. Then you have more people to feed (and keep warm/cold/whatever.) So if you pay $30 billion to feed the 862 million for free, then in 3 years you need to feed 1.5 Billion and need $60 billion...

I don't have a answer, but I understand why the Gates foundation decided to skip the feed the 3rd world problem, to work on the bigger problem of reducing diseases in the 3rd world. At least that doesn't take away the local jobs, making a dependent population first.

Re:Impressive. (2)

GoodNewsJimDotCom (2244874) | about a year ago | (#44753507)

Okay, you're saying the United Nations is wrong in that World Hunger is a problem that has been going away steadily, but could use an infusion to fix. So either you're wrong or the United Nations Food and Agricultural Organization is. Hold your thought at that.

Lets focus on your other notion," Food is free, so they cannot afford to even try to produce food themselves. " You're both right and wrong here. You're right that food dumping destroys economies making the people worse off than when you're started. This is because it puts the farmers out of business when no one is buying food. You're wrong in thinking that this is how it is typically done anymore. From what I hear the programs are more tailored to helping the local farmers through giving demand for food to the people, and micro loans to jump start economies. Food dumping is still done during times of emergency, crisis and unrest though.

I like what Bill Gates is doing. There is room for curing diseases too. We should be striving to cure diseases and make sure everyone in the world has food. To these ends is what we should strive for as human beings. Bill Gates does work towards ending starvation in Africa as well though, not just disease research [gatesfoundation.org]

Re:Impressive. (1)

Ol Olsoc (1175323) | about a year ago | (#44752789)

I know someone's going to complain "BUT JOBS!!!"

It's only "But Jobs" when your job disappears.

But all snark aside, we are intering such a disruptive time, that we will either come out the other side as humans spending all day in hammocks with unbrella drinks, or 99 percent of humanity will become redundant.

Will we simply settle for enough food to fend off starvation, or will civilization rise to new heights as mundane labor become unnecessary?

Or will we breed to the point of collapse? Or will idle humanity try to destroy itself?

Personally, I fear that our technology has far outstripped our inbred desire to kill other people, and we'll consensually nuke ourselves.

Re:Impressive. (3, Interesting)

s.petry (762400) | about a year ago | (#44752841)

Interesting points, and I agree with most of your perspective. What I take issue with in TFA is this statement. because people aren't keen on doing the laborious work. It reeks as badly as "These are jobs American's won't do" that require us to overlook illegal immigrants.

Your explanation, I accept that certain things can be automated like soil testing. To claim "people don't want to work" I say is an appeal to emotion argument that nobody should fall for (yet sadly many do). People do want to work assuming that they get paid fairly for the work being done.

Re:Impressive. (2, Interesting)

Joce640k (829181) | about a year ago | (#44753011)

To claim "people don't want to work" I say is an appeal to emotion argument that nobody should fall for (yet sadly many do). People do want to work assuming that they get paid fairly for the work being done.

Try getting the playstaion generation to go outdoors and move plant pots around all day. You'll soon be browsing robot catalogs...

Re:Impressive. (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a year ago | (#44753075)

As a member of the "playstation generation" I would gladly go outdoors and move plant pots around all day. If only every job that entails "going outdoors and moving plant pots around" didn't require "a Degree in Horticulture and 5-10 years relevant industry experience".

I am an experienced C programmer and system administrator, but I don't have "a Bachelors Degree in Computer Science or a related field and 5+ years industry experience and CCNA/CCNP, etc etc." (I do have 5+ years of industry experience, but I've lost my job and been unemployable for 2+ years)

I would love to be working indoors or outdoors, but the walls of qualification are so high, there is simply no possible avenue for participation in modern society. And I'm not alone, I have dozens of friends in similar positions.

Re:Impressive. (1)

the_fat_kid (1094399) | about a year ago | (#44753149)

and the pay.
don't forget the pay.
$20,000 a year. Ouch.
That will help you pay for that degree...

also Degree need to change to a badges system (1)

Joe_Dragon (2206452) | about a year ago | (#44753217)

that counts industry experience and hands on learning. Computer Science is not system administrator work and at some schools it's not even programmer work.

Re:Impressive. (1)

jmhobrien (2750125) | about a year ago | (#44753137)

What's their incentive? Food is much cheaper now than decades past. This gives people time to spend on other stuff that is actually enjoyable.

Re:Impressive. (1)

s.petry (762400) | about a year ago | (#44753169)

Many of these menial jobs were how my generation learned to "work" and be responsible. The same could be said with fast food jobs, and picking veggies at the farm during the summer. Many of these kids now turning 16 want money, but don't have the opportunity to work. If you are 15, labor laws will prevent you from working. At 16 it's employment is not simply hindered by labor laws, but those jobs are filled with adults that should be working higher payed jobs that no longer exist.

You are following a propaganda line that started at around the Reagan years, and has continued till today. The US Tax payer has given their Tax money to a Government that paid companies to move their jobs over seas. The same Government that convinced many people that NAFTA was a good thing (or people behind the Government would be more appropriate). The same government that disbanded tariffs and claims fair trade would hurt the people of the US. That is idiocy mind you, but people are duped into believing a politician over common sense.

If you have doubts, look at why Obama has been trying to extend NAFTA to the Pacific rim. If he was really concerned, why would you not only embrace one of the biggest detriments to the US worker and extend it? Don't repeat propaganda, stop and think!

But... jobs (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a year ago | (#44752927)

But.... this is just racing faster towards the breaking point at which petro-based, energy-intensive agriculture ultimately proves itself unsustainable. (You know, the point where topsoil erosion and petro-based fertilizers and aquifier depletion and the ability of oil / energy supplies to meet critical demand proves itself to be an inability.)
 
...am awaiting the reply "Capitalism. Love it or leave it," which will utterly destroy my argument, as it destroys every single other argument one could make against new innovations which capitalism fanboys call "advances". (I call them "the biggest, short-sighted, continuous waste and misallocation of natural resources history has ever or will ever have seen.")

Re:Impressive. (1)

Livius (318358) | about a year ago | (#44752991)

jobs only the most desperate want

Some of us believe that "the most desperate" are people too.

Re:Impressive. (4, Interesting)

caseih (160668) | about a year ago | (#44753821)

I and my brothers farm a "big agriculture" farm of about 3000 acres. We're smack dab in the middle of harvest, with about 1000 acres to go. And we have no employees other than ourselves. Just the four of us (family farm). We're heavily mechanized. three of us run the harvest usually. Two on the combines, one on the trucks. We can knock down a 130 acre field in about 8 or 9 hours.

And all this barely is enough income to fund the farm (capital costs can be huge!), and pay for 4 families.

Other farms that grow other more labor-intensive (and more lucrative) crops do hire a lot of unskilled labor, but we're running into an interesting problem. Modern farm machinery requires interaction with a computer screen right there in the machine. As well a good working knowledge of math is required as ratios and calculations are needed all the time when setting machines, figuring out how much product is needed, etc. But many of the unskilled laborers that can be hired lack basic reading and writing skills.

Anyway, I'd love a swarm of little robots to craw along the soil between the rows of plants and pick weeds. Eliminating herbicide use would be huge! And if we could somehow mechanically zap harmful insects but leave the beneficial ones alone, that'd also be wonderful. That'd still leave me with having to fight fungal infections, but it'd be a great start.

Re:Impressive. (1)

Captain Hook (923766) | about a year ago | (#44754239)

are jobs only the most desperate want

So?

Are you saying that just because they are desparate for work the loss of their potential jobs shouldn't be considered?

At the end of the day, that wage would have been paid back into the community while a capital investment in a robot won't be, or at least not as efficiently.

How an unskilled labor job works. (5, Informative)

Anonymous Coward | about a year ago | (#44752215)

...two bots would cost the same as three unskilled human laborers who earn about $20k annually not to mention medical bills due to injury.

That depends on the "unskilled" labor you're talking about.

People legally able to work will get $7.25 per hour (minimum wage) only when they are scheduled to work. In other words, they will work when needed and it'll be seasonal. So, said worker will be really lucky to make $7,000 for the year at that job. AND the hours will be sporadic - he won't know what days he's working or even he's going to work that week. And some of these jobs, you show up at 5AM to get in line and wait until 7AM to see if you work that day - ALL UNPAID.

I know because I had to do it to pay bills. And no, if HURTS your resume if you are a white collar worker. All those employers who say that they want you doing "something - anything" when looking for a "real" job are full of shit. If you work as a laborer, they think that you aren't good enough to work in your profession.

It's better to be unemployed than "taking anything to work."

Now illegal workers, that's a whole different ball of wax.

no facts please. this is slashdot (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a year ago | (#44752521)

and a member of the upper class is pontificating on their brilliant theory that makes everyone feel good.

Re:How an unskilled labor job works. (1)

ShanghaiBill (739463) | about a year ago | (#44753119)

...two bots would cost the same as three unskilled human laborers who earn about $20k annually not to mention medical bills due to injury.

That depends on the "unskilled" labor you're talking about.

It also depends on the ability to distinguish a one time cost like the purchase price of a robot, from a recurring cost such as an annual salary.

Re:How an unskilled labor job works. (1)

s.petry (762400) | about a year ago | (#44753519)

What? A robot is a one time cost? Nope, not even close. Cheaper maintenance? Nope, that is not close either. It takes higher skills to maintain, reprogram, and repair robots. Then you have fuels required to power them.

Look at farm equipment for example. Machinery that was supposed to be cheaper has become community or rental property because it's much more expensive than paying labor. Many places still use manual labor to harvest because it's cheaper to do than machine harvest.

Re:How an unskilled labor job works. (1)

Seumas (6865) | about a year ago | (#44753343)

When someone says "nobody is willing to do this work/labor/whatever", what they really mean is "we're too cheap to pay a wage that will attract people to doing this job". Money is king and if you pay enough, you will find someone to perform any job on earth. People make very little money doing a hell of a lot worse jobs than moving some plants around.

Re:How an unskilled labor job works. (2)

b4upoo (166390) | about a year ago | (#44753429)

It is a moral perversion not find jobs for the unskilled who are being displaced . More and more skilled people are also being displaced by technology as well. It has to be expected as public policy has changed and the results are not so good. For example by having women in the workforce we cut in half the value of human effort. Then we allow all minds of immigration which also deeply slashes at the value of human labor. Top that with technology that eliminates ever more jobs and we are half way to causing complete social chaos.
                          But look at policies that tend to devalue human labor. Will the right wing freeze immigration? Will the right wing approve of abortion upon demand? Will the right wing stop trying to destroy unions? Will the right wing stop the right to work nonsense that exists in many states? Will the right wing back off of welfare policies that cause mothers to go through degrading, impossible and flat out destructive and dangerous requirements to get a welfare check? Why does the right wing create conditions which force a woman to ride three hours on a work bus to earn minimum wage and another three hours to get home and then whine that she does not care for her babies well enough just because they force her to be absent 14 hours a day. Why do we allow minimum wages to be so low? Why is it that our kids are actually smart enough to confront the fact that crime, as bad as it is, is in fact their only opportunity to actually earn a living? Why do jails and prisons fail to provide excellent educations and skills training?
                      Does it appear to anyone else that right wing beliefs are designed to break America's back?

Re:How an unskilled labor job works. (1)

s.petry (762400) | about a year ago | (#44753633)

You start out fine (first paragraph), but then go out to left field. The "Left" in the US is doing, and has done, the same exact things as the "Right". People claim Obama is a minority so does stupid things. Bush was just an idiot, so did stupid things. Clinton was just horny, so did stupid things. The other Bush was an asshole, and did stupid things. Reagan was an actor, and did stupid things. How many of these people are really stupid? How many times do you have to see both parties do the same exact things to convince you that the "Left" and "Right" became a false paradigm a very long time ago?

I'm not claiming that you and I can't have philosophical differences, I'm claiming that what we have had in politics since the 70s are from the same team and none of them work for the US Citizens.

People need to get over the bullshit they have been fed and open their eyes to reality. David Copperfield and Chris Angel do not have real magic powers. People are distracted from seeing what they really do in a performance, or things are hidden from view. I'm really not sure how people don't understand that what we have been seeing in politics is the same thing. They use race, religion, patriotism, "for the children" irrational arguments, and false "left" vs "right" arguments to keep you looking the other way. They always extend the same policies that are bad for citizens, and often pass even worse laws. Each new guy claiming "it's gonna change" and not a damn thing changes.

These tricks are not new, they date back to our earliest writings. Socrates despised the Sophists because they taught these arts to the noble class.

Thousands of people have been trying to tell people what has been happening. They rarely get media time, so you have to look for them. Gary Allen, George Carlin, Mark Dice, and hell go back and listen to what Eisenhower and Kennedy said.

Re:How an unskilled labor job works. (1)

phantomfive (622387) | about a year ago | (#44753847)

I used to live across the street from a nursery, with potted plants, and they had workers there moving plants around all-year-round.

Fruit harvesters on the other hand, yeah, they don't work year round. In the winter they switch to pruning or oranges. There's basically farm work to do like that all year round, if you're willing to travel.

Hidden cost (0)

gweihir (88907) | about a year ago | (#44752287)

What are the two unskilled laborers to do then? At the very least you need to add their wages to the real cost. If they turn to crime, this would even be much more expensive. Not that I am against using robots for unattractive jobs, but the cost-calculation is exceedingly naive.

Re:Hidden cost (2)

Ichijo (607641) | about a year ago | (#44752331)

Those displaced workers could work on assembly lines building potted plant moving robotics. At least until those assembly lines are replaced with robots. Then those workers could work on assembly lines building robots that build potted plant building robotics. Until...

Re:Hidden cost (2, Interesting)

Anonymous Coward | about a year ago | (#44752463)

This is the road we are going down.It's easy to imagine a time when the only things of value are land and energy (and the land and energy required to make something). A breakthrough in those areas (space colonization, cheap fusion power) and nothing will be of value. My desktop 3-D printer/assembler can make be a garage sized 3-D printer/assemblerr, which in turn can assemble me a new Ferrari. It can also disassemble my old Ferrari for raw materials then disassemble itself to save space. Will we get there? Unknown, but fortunately for us science fiction writers have anticipated this for a long time and proposed some interesting and probably workable solutions.

My personal favorite is everyone gets a stipend like Native American tribes or people from Alaska. A low but above poverty amount, say 30K a year. To be fair everyone gets it. Bill Gates, Warren Buffet, me. People can work if they want to. Jobs would be scarce and desirable no matter how bad. If 40 or even 80% of the population is unemployed, who cares? We would have to get past class warfare, because anyone who had a truly needed job would be pretty valuable and probably make a lot of money, but again, who cares if you can print a Ferrari or surfboard or whatever else you want practically for free.

Re:Hidden cost (-1)

Anonymous Coward | about a year ago | (#44752581)

That's never gonna happen for obvious reasons, but keep in mind we already had several technological revolutions (Industrial, Information, etc) and each time, instead of reaping the benefits, we chose to work even more instead.

Re:Hidden cost (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a year ago | (#44752889)

Part of the choosing to work more is that what work we do requires more training/prep in proportion to productivity - A Medieval Doctor probably did not spend 8 years at a university in preparation, a businessman did not spend 5-6 years in preparation, nor did most careers require the continual learning of new skills (honing your craft, yes, adapting to working with new materials? much more rare). This is part of what causes all the "mythical man-hour" discussions - sure in the 1900's, you could train a factory worker quickly, but someone who has to monitor and adjust a dozen expensive robots rather than drill these holes/tighten these bolts? Not nearly as readily trained.

Re:Hidden cost (1)

Entropius (188861) | about a year ago | (#44753535)

We did reap the benefits, though -- people now have 40 (USA) or 35-ish (Europe) hour work weeks, in general, with time off. This is a whole lot better than a century ago.

Re:Hidden cost (1)

real-modo (1460457) | about a year ago | (#44752843)

This is the road we are going down.It's easy to imagine a time when the only things of value are land and energy (and the land and energy required to make something).

And things the value of which lies precisely in the human touch and human relationships. Live entertainment. Restaurants. Tours. Landscape design. Coaching and mentoring. Hairdressing. Fashion design, arts and crafts -- anything creative. Counselling, palliative care and some other health services. Business-to-business sales. Reception and hospitality. Boutique sales. Bribery, government and arms sales. OK, maybe not so much arms sales.

Hmmm, which gender is traditionally better at the 'human touch' stuff, again?

Re:Hidden cost (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a year ago | (#44752865)

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Rainbows_End [wikipedia.org]

You are not the first to think about consequences where only a few actually are needed to work. Rainbow's End is a good summary of that future.

Re:Hidden cost (1)

kesuki (321456) | about a year ago | (#44753015)

"This is the road we are going down.It's easy to imagine a time when the only things of value are land and energy"

and drinkable water. i would eat my tinfoil hat if you seriously think fresh water can be done at a low enough cost to not assign it monetary value. we pay $130 every month for water.

"(and the land and energy required to make something). A breakthrough in those areas (space colonization, cheap fusion power) and nothing will be of value. "

space colonization is science fiction. we don't even have a radiation shielding planet except venus which is so hot from green house effects that it rains acid.

"My desktop 3-D printer/assembler can make be a garage sized 3-D printer/assemblerr, which in turn can assemble me a new Ferrari."

bioplastic reels can't assemble a car it can make molds for all the parts but it cannot make your garage a replicator.

" It can also disassemble my old Ferrari for raw materials then disassemble itself to save space. Will we get there? Unknown, but fortunately for us science fiction writers have anticipated this for a long time and proposed some interesting and probably workable solutions."

i have read the scifi classics. i have seen many little screen sci fi, and very little is 'hard' scifi many are just clever plot ploys to make the story more palatable. there are real solutions, but the usa got sewer and running hot and cold water happy.. millions of miles of pipe to make toilets where once you needed to build an out house. there is a guy trying to convince people to use portable outhouses that use sawdust to mask the odor and make garden compost from it. and i have yet to read the scifi where they deal with the nasty details of too much poop. even though factory farms are now contagion hot houses because they live in their own filth and are feed a lot to make a big mess.

"My personal favorite is everyone gets a stipend like Native American tribes or people from Alaska. A low but above poverty amount, say 30K a year. To be fair everyone gets it. Bill Gates, Warren Buffet, me. People can work if they want to. Jobs would be scarce and desirable no matter how bad. If 40 or even 80% of the population is unemployed, who cares? We would have to get past class warfare, because anyone who had a truly needed job would be pretty valuable and probably make a lot of money, but again, who cares if you can print a Ferrari or surfboard or whatever else you want practically for free."

replicators do not exist. they are not real. robotics have done a lot for a lot of people. 3d printers don't do what you say they do. they make plastic that can hold up to firing 3-5 nails from a handgun or a rifle. sure you could download plans to mold and fabricate that way but then you need a forge and ingots of iron or aluminium then you need to have high precision tools to assemble parts. it goes on and on. there is a reason they make a car on an assembly line and not out of a glorified 3d printer. and don't forget the government. they are not on the same page as you. napster showed what can be done when you ignore us and international law... and it was not pretty. the riaa and mpaa do not want people to get music and movies for free even if the internet has made it cheaper and easier to watch tv/movies and listen to music, they want their cut. if you told alexander gram bell that oil, metal, dye and a laser could let you fit 6,000 songs or hours and hours of movies... heh we have come so far...

Re:Hidden cost (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a year ago | (#44754127)

The rising tide is not raising all ships. Every layer of abstraction in labor comes with increased barriers to entry and reduced pay for the remaining people who can make the cut. Theoretically the job replaced by a robot is replaced on a 1:1 ratio. In practice, for reasons of scarcity of commodities and energy(limitations of the physical universe) we cannot just build more robots to make up the difference.

The system has a pressure relief in the form of war and disease, but it remains to be seen if it is a stable equilibrium or if we are dealing with the prospective "nuclear holocaust" integral run-away. International population growth rates suggest violent hysteresis.

Re:Hidden cost (0)

lgw (121541) | about a year ago | (#44752435)

Came for the "progressive" Luddites complaining about technological progress on a technology site. Left satisfied.

Re:Hidden cost (1)

kwbauer (1677400) | about a year ago | (#44752815)

I frequently have that experience here.

Re:Hidden cost (1)

c0lo (1497653) | about a year ago | (#44752483)

What are the two unskilled laborers to do then? At the very least you need to add their wages to the real cost. If they turn to crime, this would even be much more expensive.

The increased productivity results in a higher absolute level of taxes being collected. Higher money means the govt can afford to spend more on prisons (or convert them in soldiers).
Isn't this how it supposed to work?

(grin)

Re: Hidden cost (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a year ago | (#44752633)

Yeah if any "big" business actually paid their taxes.

Re: Hidden cost (2, Interesting)

kwbauer (1677400) | about a year ago | (#44752825)

The largest in the US paid anywhere between 25% and 50% of their revenue, but keep spouting that nonsense that anything less than 100% is not their fare share.

Re: Hidden cost (3, Informative)

timeOday (582209) | about a year ago | (#44753539)

Says who? The GAO says 12.6% [nytimes.com] . But keep spouting that nonsense that any big companies actually pay the sticker price.

Re: Hidden cost (2)

timeOday (582209) | about a year ago | (#44753543)

PS: "The report found that even when foreign, state, and local taxes were included, the tax rate of large companies rose only to 16.9 percent of total income, still well below the official 35 percent." From the same link.

Re: Hidden cost (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a year ago | (#44753617)

Ignoring the misuse of the term 'revenue'...

Your statement flies in the face of reality through reporting like this [alternet.org] and this [bloomberg.com] and this [wsj.com] . Though it is true that some of the largest companies 'in the US paid anywhere between 25% and 50%' but it was not of revenue, or even profit, but of their expected payment to be allowed to exist in a civil society. There is nothing stopping them from moving to lawless places and doing as they please. If people want civilization, they should pay for it.

Re: Hidden cost (2)

kermidge (2221646) | about a year ago | (#44753685)

https://duckduckgo.com/?t=ous&q=fortune+500+average+tax+paid [duckduckgo.com]

Overall the top 500 paid an average of half the 35% rate. The GAO report is a good place to start if you really want to know, or one of the news story summaries. Roughly half the entries on a screen and a half of search results were for articles on companies paying zero or less federal tax.

Re:Hidden cost (1)

fuzzyfuzzyfungus (1223518) | about a year ago | (#44752495)

Ah; but if only one of them turns to crime, we can hire the other one to protect the robot against the criminal!

Re:Hidden cost (2)

couchslug (175151) | about a year ago | (#44752543)

The lack of jobs for unskilled laborers will discourage illegal immigration. Americans don't want those jobs, or we wouldn't have vast numbers of openings for illegals!

Dry up the jobs, remove the attraction to immigrate.

Re:Hidden cost (3, Insightful)

EmperorOfCanada (1332175) | about a year ago | (#44752695)

You have hit at the exact problem with all robotics where modern robotics will eat all low skilled jobs. It is a cultural problem not a technological or economic one. Some societies will become feudal with a small few owning everything and the great unwashed masses completely left out of the economic game and on some kind of punitive welfare.

But some societies will know that they are all about their people. One guess is that concepts like Minimum Basic Wages (different from minimum wage) and high income taxes will shift the focus from production and capitalism (which is easy with robotics and thus shouldn't be greatly rewarded) to consumption and fairness.

I am not talking about communism for if you look at the defective planned economy of the Soviet Union where they focused on production and things still sucked. The idea is that you focus on simple things that encourage consumption and equality and then let people figure the rest out themselves. But most societies focus on the magic term GDP and with robots that number can be very very high even with extreme unemployment. Thus it is a terrible standard to measure a happy economic situation.

But the stupidest societies of all will ban or fight robotic production.

Re:Hidden cost (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a year ago | (#44752917)

You don't really want to encourage consumption - that is wasteful. Also, robotics improvements aren't necessarily easy - the marginal cost of most improvements is low, but the fixed development costs are often fairly high. What you want is something where each citizen is given the revenue stream from robo-manufacturing to live a basic lifestyle, but you still reward those who are able to improve on the base robot or develop specialized ones that improve the overall economy.

Re:Hidden cost (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a year ago | (#44752713)

Just deport 'em back to Mexico before they can commit any crimes. Sure, that still costs money but the tax payer (i.e. middle class) pays for it not the farmer so what does he care.

Re:Hidden cost (1)

deodiaus2 (980169) | about a year ago | (#44752739)

Another hidden cost. If the person doing the work is displaced by a robot then he won't be able to buy stuff produced by other machines. If half of our labor force is out of work, then the demand for the goods will drop and so will prices. I bet that the robotic industry will come to the government troth to bail them out. Another factor is R&D used to develop this technology came out of the War department. Ironic that the same worker paid taxes to have himself displaced.
Funny but in the 1970's, the Debeer diamond cartel was able to buy up R&D from GE to prevent industrial diamonds from being able to advance to compete with "investment grade diamonds".

Re:Hidden cost (2)

kwbauer (1677400) | about a year ago | (#44752849)

"the demand for the goods will drop and so will prices" Do you realize that you just quoted basic market theory while seeming to rail against the market?

And when the prices drop, then the displaced worker will be able to purchase the same amount for less. When this is taken to the ridiculous end, all those who are demanding that we adopt the utopia of people only doing what they want and still having everything they want might become a reality. However, most things break down before they get that far.

Re:Hidden cost (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a year ago | (#44753115)

Except HE WON'T, instead the capitalist who kept the efficiency gains from automation will be able to buy it instead*. The displaced worker now has NO INCOME, and is left to starve to death.

* Or more likely use the materials to produce something else he would rather have.

Re:Hidden cost (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a year ago | (#44753279)

I'd be interested to see how low the price would have to be in order to be able to buy something with the zero wages you are earning.
There is only one point at which a "displaced worker" with zero income (due to being - you know, displaced) could afford anything. And that is when food costs zero.

When food costs zero; there is not even any money for the producer to offset some losses. In reality, the farmer does not ever go to zero dollars. He might go below cost, but he never goes to zero. It is cheaper for him to do nothing; than sell at zero.

Re:Hidden cost (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a year ago | (#44753125)

Replying anon because moderated earlier-

You wrote: "Funny but in the 1970's, the Debeer diamond cartel was able to buy up R&D from GE to prevent industrial diamonds from being able to advance to compete with "investment grade diamonds"."

Nope. deBeers didn't buy any R&D from GE. They did their own, and set up big diamond manufacturing plants in Shannon, Ireland.In the time you mention, deBeers was excluded from doing business directly in the US (they pissed off the USG during WWII by continuing to supply Germany with diamond products needed to make precision bearings and other militarily useful stuff), so they had to import their products to the US through a Canadian subsidiary. What did happen was a highly informal (read: illegal restraint of trade) process of agreement whereby GE and deBeers divvied up world markets for diamond abrasives between themselves. This fell apart when GE's diamond abrasives manufacturing tech was stolen and transferred to Taiwan (check contemporary WSJ articles, among others), which brought Asian manufacturers into the picture. Diamond grit is extremely cheap today.

Gem quality diamonds have long been available with the high-pressure, high-temperature process pioneered independently by GE and a Swedish company, they've just been too expensive until relatively recently. Today, Gemesis and other companies make plenty of gem diamonds you can buy. Guess what? They're not that much cheaper than mined diamonds. Funny how price fixing continues.

Re:Hidden cost (1)

ulatekh (775985) | about a year ago | (#44753449)

What are the two unskilled laborers to do then?

They can talk to the at-risk kids that think they're "too cool for school", and show them the consequences of their lousy attitude...

Re:Hidden cost (1)

wienerschnizzel (1409447) | about a year ago | (#44753845)

Something requiring empathy and/or creativity. If there's somebody neither creative nor emphatic, he should be on a disability. Because there is not going to be any work not requiring these things left for people in the near future.

Re:Hidden cost (2)

jmhobrien (2750125) | about a year ago | (#44754087)

Articles discussing the "rise of the economic machines" come up very frequently, and every time I think "this is a good thing". Nobody wants to do these shitty jobs. These people will be available/forced to work on something that a human is better at performing. From a business point of view, robotic automation of labor lowers the cost of production. This in turn should result in lower prices for the consumer. Obviously this is very simplistic, but I believe there is a lot of truth to it. Technological advances are good for the human race.

been talk of greenhouses in NYC (1)

alen (225700) | about a year ago | (#44752297)

there has been talk of urban farming. putting greenhouses onto roofs of buildings to grow veggies. since you can't survive on $20k in NYC, these would be perfect for the job

Re:been talk of greenhouses in NYC (1)

the_fat_kid (1094399) | about a year ago | (#44752557)

no, it says that 2 of these would be perfect for the job.
the job is keeping 3 poor people out of your building.

Re:been talk of greenhouses in NYC (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a year ago | (#44752931)

Urban farming isn't about cost savings - it's about the organic/green movement. It is actually quite an inefficient use of space as you could earn far more putting human habitation in that same space.

Case for universal income (4, Insightful)

manu0601 (2221348) | about a year ago | (#44752347)

This is another move toward producing what humanity needs without human working. How many persons we need to feed the USA today?

At some point we will have to admit that there must be an universal income regardless of work done, Otherwise the end of the story will be robots producing goods that nobody can afford except the robot owners.

Re:Case for universal income (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a year ago | (#44752473)

In the US you need about 1 farmer for every 155 or so people, so less than 2 million farmers at this point. And that's going to get smaller and smaller as time goes by.

Re:Case for universal income (4, Funny)

c0lo (1497653) | about a year ago | (#44752501)

This is another move toward producing what humanity needs without human working. How many persons we need to feed the USA today?

Doesn't this number depend on the efficiency of the transformation of the said persons in soylent green?

(dark mood grin)

Re:Case for culling the human population (1)

pkbarbiedoll (851110) | about a year ago | (#44753243)

Socialism is of the devil. What makes you or anyone else honestly believe that the wealthy are going to play along with your idea? Wouldn't they just float the notion that it's better to reduce population than provide handouts?

Re:Case for culling the human population (1)

manu0601 (2221348) | about a year ago | (#44753321)

Do you have something against democracy? If the vast majority wants some profits to be shared so that people can live, the rich minority has to comply, or to install a dictatorship.

Beside, redistributing wealth is not socialism. I did not talked about seizing machines and move them to public ownership.

Voting themselves money (1)

ulatekh (775985) | about a year ago | (#44753491)

If the vast majority wants some profits to be shared so that people can live, the rich minority has to comply.

"When the people find that they can vote themselves money, that will herald the end of the republic." -Benjamin Franklin

Besides, the rich minority doesn't have to comply. They can leave the country. They have the resources to do that. Try voting your hand into their pocket, and Atlas will shrug so fast it'll make your head spin.

Re:Voting themselves money (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a year ago | (#44754147)

You mean we can actually convince the elite to leave so they'll stop ruining everything?

We should have tried this decades ago!

Okay, affordable robots in big agriculture (1)

Blaskowicz (634489) | about a year ago | (#44752423)

Now I'm waiting for big robots in affordable agriculture, I'm trying to work out what that means or looks like but it sure sounds cool and promising.

Blueberry robot (5, Interesting)

EmperorOfCanada (1332175) | about a year ago | (#44752511)

I was recently picking blueberries at a u-pick. This is easily the best year I have ever seen. Literally the bushes were breaking under the weight of the blueberries. You could eat the berries off the bushes like corn on the cob. The problem is that most berry areas are having a similar banner year along with there being a huge amount of berries planted. All this has resulted in a price crash. This crash has made it borderline uneconomic to harvest the berries. But if you had a robotic harvester this changes the pricing quite a bit. Once you have purchased the machine the price to run it should be very low and the amortized costs are there regardless if you run the machine or not. Thus you can harvest the berries even in banner years. Another option is to also plant excessive crops of different types and then focus your harvesting on the most profitable crops in any given year.

It is my firm belief that robotic agriculture will change the entirety of how we produce food. A few simple examples of changes that few people discuss would be the terrain that is used for harvesting. Two of the key advantages of flat land for grains is that the crop will develop consistently across large areas and thus when harvested be of a predictable quality when turned into bread and whatnot. The other is that it is far easier to build the massive harvesting machines if they don't have to contend with any variations in the terrain. The goal of the massive machines is to vastly increase the ability of a single human to do a huge amount of work.

But with robotic planting, tending, and harvesting you don't need to "multiply" the work of a single human. Thus the robots can be fairly small. Also the robots can adjust the feeding of the plants so to grow a fairly consistent crop in inconsistent terrain. Then in the end when it comes time to harvest. The robot can methodically harvest at the perfect moment for any given plant (repeatedly bypassing those not ready) plus it can methodically sort even down the single grain.

Another advantage is where the cost of the entire cycle of agriculture can be so low that you could robotically convert marginal land into low producing land and still produce food at a very low cost. The return on quality land would be higher but by being able to cheaply bring marginal land into production it will form a scenario of relentless competition thus holding down prices. Plus once again due to the nature of robot economics once marginal land was in production the cost of continued production would be very low. This could also be carefully factored into the logistics calculations where a less efficient production is competitive where it might reduce some other cost such as shipping.

This last factor might result in it being cheaper to produce greenhouses and then produce goods year-round much closer to the point of consumption rather than shipping them half way around the world.

Also robotics can be used inefficient ways such as massively processing marginal land making it quite productive. Normally this is a time eating process that is not worth it. But if you can leave some robots cooking away in a forest for a few years and come back to find nutrient rich terra pretta then again the economics change.

What I can't foresee is which direction agriculture will take. I have a feeling it will be mega massive monster farming companies with very few employees that depopulate the rural farm communities. But at the same time the low barriers to entry might mean that many people will jump in the moment a competitive opportunity is perceived. Personally where food is such a fundamental part of living (right there after clean water) that I don't believe that any small group of companies should be allowed to concentrate ownership of any nation's food production. If they get it wrong, or play evil games, massive numbers of people could suffer.

One prediction that I will solidly make is that there will be very very very very few people employed in agriculture in 20-50 years.

Is it just me, or were we all hoping... (1)

tlambert (566799) | about a year ago | (#44752531)

Is it just me, or were we all hoping to see Huey, Dewey, and Loie from the movie "Silent Running". That what I think of when I think of agricultural robots.

Re:Is it just me, or were we all hoping... (1)

plover (150551) | about a year ago | (#44753281)

When I saw the video of them scurrying about with their front facing pot pincers, all I could think of was a Pixar-like voice saying "Bare-E".

They don't need half those robots in the video (1)

OzPeter (195038) | about a year ago | (#44752537)

They could get rid of half those robots in the video if that guy walking around with his hands in his pockets was doing some actual work.

Yeahbut... (1)

bmo (77928) | about a year ago | (#44752655)

Those 3 laborers can also dead-head, apply fertilizer, identify disease, fix the sprinkler system, and harvest without damaging the product.

Among other things.

How much would a robot, that does all those things, cost now?

--
BMO

Re:Yeahbut... (2)

plover (150551) | about a year ago | (#44753407)

A business owner doesn't look at a person who does five tasks and say "I will replace your entire 40-hour-per-week job with one robot that does all five of your tasks." They look at the tasks they need done, the labor expense spent on each of those tasks, and say "I will automate the tasks that I can, and cut payroll hours accordingly."

If you needed four full-time employees to work your greenhouse yesterday, and it took a total of 20 hours per week to move pots, you now only need three full-time employees, one part-timer for 20 hours, plus a robot.

Later, once fertilizer robots are available, you take another look at your time spent fertilizing. If it takes you another 20 hours, and you can buy a fertilizer robot to do it, you reduce the head count to three employees plus two robots. Alternately, you can keep everyone on staff, but cut all their hours to 30 hours per week, (and drop all their benefits because they're now part-time.)

Of course, the laborers who have had their hours cut and their benefits dropped will have little incentive to make tasks easy for the robots. "Oh, sorry, the hose leaks and sometimes it makes those big mud puddles, and I guess the robot just got stuck." "You know, those sensors always seem to get plugged up with grass clippings." And finally, "We stopped using the robots because they weren't very reliable, what with all the traction problems and sensor failures."

Re:Yeahbut... (1)

Anonymous Coward | about a year ago | (#44753589)

I'm sorry we will have to let you go. For some reason your friend is just as productive, and the robot never seems to have issues when he's working. He's got a few friends that are looking for work right now, and I'm gonna take them on instead, but I wish you the best of luck in your endeavors.

Pay attention burger flippers striking on min wage (0)

JoeyRox (2711699) | about a year ago | (#44752795)

There are already robots that automate your unskilled work as well. And in the interim there are billions of humans entering the workforce who would literally die for your standard of living.

Re:Pay attention burger flippers striking on min w (1)

kwbauer (1677400) | about a year ago | (#44752879)

And as long as we in the States maintain at least some attempt to enforce our borders (just like every other country/economic union in the world), those billions won't be competing with my local burger flipper. Some jobs just are not outsourceable.

Re:Pay attention burger flippers striking on min w (3, Informative)

plover (150551) | about a year ago | (#44753569)

Wrong. Jobs still go overseas or go away, just that you don't see them leave.

Look at the plumbing industry. Drilling holes in a wall and sticking copper tubing through them seems like something that has to remain solidly on shore, right? Let's say it's 120 hours of work to plumb an average house. So you show up to work some day and your boss says "we're switching to PEX." Because you don't have elbows or joints, there is no soldering, and because those holes don't have to line up perfectly, plumbing a house with PEX now takes only about 40 hours. Where did the extra labor go? Some went overseas to the PEX factory, but the rest got laid off.

At the burger place? Where do you think those patties were manufactured? Do you see a McButcher shop in the back of the store? No, the animals were likely raised and slaughtered and packed in rural Brasil, or some other country with cheaper labor and farmland.

It's a global economy now. Parts and materials come from everywhere. Protectionism means little at the borders when it's only keeping out the $7.25/hour illegal immigrants. The total cost to the US economy of illegal immigrants is less than $30 billion. (Compare that to the Wall Street bailout of $750 billion, or to the Iraq / Afghanistan wars with their costs of over $2 trillion.) The real losses to the U.S. job market have come from increased efficiencies, more automation, and overseas manufacturing and labor, where $trillions of dollars have left our payrolls. But hey, let's get Fox banging the illegal immigrant drum and blame them for taking our jobs, because Mexicans are visible and the TV cop shows prove they're all criminals and drug lords. It takes our easily distracted minds off the facts of where the real losses are coming from.

Put Down That Petunia! (1)

seven of five (578993) | about a year ago | (#44752809)

You Have Thirty Seconds To Comply.

What is the advance? (1)

whydavid (2593831) | about a year ago | (#44753105)

I don't understand why this is news. Automation has been used in agriculture for a long time in applications much more advanced than this. Why should we get excited about a simplistic robot which moves pots around according to explicit user instructions and pre-placed guidance tape? Show me a robot that, based on the type of plant, moves it to a suitable area where it will receive just the right amount of sun, or perhaps a robot that will ensure each plant gets exactly the right amount of water/nutrients given varying weather conditions, or a robot that monitors each plant for signs of disease, or really just a robot that does something that robots haven't been doing since, you know, the beginning of robots.

Which is it? (3, Insightful)

pkbarbiedoll (851110) | about a year ago | (#44753219)

> because people aren't keen on doing the laborious work.

Or...

> two bots would cost the same as three unskilled human laborers who earn about $20k annually not to mention medical bills due to injury.

My money is on door #2.

Great. Fewer jobs for teenagers. (2)

Culture20 (968837) | about a year ago | (#44753229)

At this rate, adults and robots will take all the jobs young adults used to have, making them even more useless by the time they graduate college.

Re:Great. Fewer jobs for teenagers. (1)

Seumas (6865) | about a year ago | (#44753375)

Infinitely+1?

Yawn (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a year ago | (#44753675)

Moving Planted Pots? Thats not Agriculture robots! A useful robot would be removing weeds and pests from plant rows, or other tasks that currently require extensive manual labor.

Seen robots moving plants in the uk around 1996 (3, Interesting)

blackest_k (761565) | about a year ago | (#44754023)

I was shown a pretty impressive set up in a huge greenhouse set up in south lincolnshire which produced pots of herbs.
The sowing of pots was largely automated and there were rails running down the length of the greenhouse with metal trays across the rails.

Essentially the rails were loaded at one end and robots would lift the trays and move them along the rails as the herbs grew. watering was automated so it was long production lines the length of the green house and the robots took care of the plants and the far end of the line the pots were taken off and shipped to supermarkets using minimal manual labour.

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