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AgriRover Brings Mars Rover Technology To the Farm

samzenpus posted about a year ago | from the time-to-pick dept.

Robotics 41

Zothecula writes "We tend to think of livestock farmers as 'one man and his dog,' but if AgResearch of New Zealand has anything to say, that pair may have to move over to include a robot. A team led by Dr. Andrew Manderson is developing AgriRover, an agricultural robot inspired by NASA's Mars rovers. It's a proof-of-concept prototype designed to show how robots can make life easier and more productive for livestock farmers."

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My image. (3, Informative)

Anonymous Coward | about a year ago | (#45366645)

"We tend to think of livestock farmers as 'one man and his dog,'..

No, I think of them just locking the animals in huge pens, force feeding them corn, pumping them up with anti-biotics and other drugs so that they can digest food that they didn't evolve to eat ( they supposed to eat grass and are incapable of digesting corn without much pharmaceutical help), live in their own shit and piss, and then slaughtered. And I won't get into the welf...tax subsidies they get ...

I don't know who they're talking about in the article - non-US farms?

Re:My image. (5, Interesting)

flyneye (84093) | about a year ago | (#45366763)

We've always raised cattle on an open pasture and alfalfa bales.
Anti-biotics don't "pump cattle up", it keeps infectious diseases from the herd. Although I admit, I don't do anything to the cattle I intend to slaughter for beef for myself. If you want to pump cattle up, do it the old fashioned way, a few days before market, salt their food til they get on the truck. They'll soak up water like a sponge. @ 9+ lb. per gallon, it helps tip the scales nicely for max profit. Corn? Damned if I'm gonna spend that kind of money, don't know anyone else who will either.
Silage is usually milo based. Feedyards are kinda gross and I do not approve, but even then, they have an interest in keeping cattle alive for their clients. It is poorly run yards, indeed, that get filmed for the "feel sorry for the cows" propaganda films they use to get money from vegetarians and animal lovers. But what are they going to use, an example of the majority that clean pens, doctor their cattle and mix nutrition blends for weight gain. I would suggest that if corn is involved, it is fed during a pre market cycle. Individual farmers most likely to pasture their cattle, who can't afford the cost of feed yards, sure as shit don't feed corn. I dunno, maybe in Iowa , but I doubt it. So, how do you raise your cattle? What, you've never seen one eye to eye? Maybe you need a trip to the farm, boy. It will improve your credibility.

Re:My image. (3, Informative)

ebno-10db (1459097) | about a year ago | (#45366833)

Re:My image. (1)

flyneye (84093) | about a year ago | (#45374611)

Well you can stick a bicycle pump up their butt too, but that doesn't mean it's cost effective in the end. Unless you are a major corp. with your own feedyards and buy loads of bulk crap. I'll stick with my observation since corporate beef usually have institutional clients and the average beef rancher, still in the majority, tries NOT to use so much crap. If you have 100,000 head of cattle and 300 employees on any given day, I could see the worst happening. Process the cow widgets, cut costs, write off the losses on the taxes. If you have 300 head, a rancher and his hired man and a couple of kids can pay closer personal attention and have to, in order to maximize their investment. They literally can't afford to screw around with the beef, the more crap you give them the less likely they are to thrive and sickness and mortality become issues. Ironic, no? It doesn't take a rocket surgeon to figure out that like people , the more medicine you give them, the worse off they become.
So I don't give a damn what you read in the media.

Re:My image. (1)

sonamchauhan (587356) | about a year ago | (#45372677)

Re:My image. (1)

flyneye (84093) | about a year ago | (#45374681)

Yes, they're nasty smelly places. The problem is, when you have a world full of people waiting on their hamburger, it takes a world full of cattle to be eaten.
This takes a lot of acreage that can't be spared. So, much beef is raised by Mega-feed yards who service mega clients like; McDonalds and their ilk, entire state public school systems and prisons, Big box stores like WartMart that people are willing to buy MORE of this CHEAP beef INCREASING the demand.

What can I say? Get your beef from good sources, Butcher shops, farmers, small beef processing shops, health food stores (you gotta try the Beefallo) and even some fine restaurants will sell you prime-grade A Beef. Some is even advertised as being free range and/or chemical free. Failing that raise your own.
Don't come whining to me about cost. I come from the other end of your problem where cost is still the problem. Dont like it? Go buy a corporate death-burger.
That is the state of the world today. Horrible, but at least you still have options.

Re:My image. (1)

Barsteward (969998) | about a year ago | (#45370233)

Seems a strange article. Do /.ers know that a farm is?

Re:My image. (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a year ago | (#45371323)

Ugh, what weirdos. Can't they just buy their food in stores like normal people?

OMG! (1)

flyneye (84093) | about a year ago | (#45366687)

The dreaded cow drone!

Re:OMG! (2)

K. S. Kyosuke (729550) | about a year ago | (#45366777)

I think we have a new literary title for the 21st century: "Do android farmer dogs dream of electric sheep with greater likelihood than other kinds of androids?" (Yeah, I know; I'd be pretty lousy fiction writer!)

Re:OMG! (1)

flyneye (84093) | about a year ago | (#45366819)

By Farmer K. Brown.
          In which Bessie is hunted by the cow drone who wants answers; How long will my battery last? Why can't I mark trees without losing 10W40? Why won't master pet me? SQUIRREL!!!! (whoosh)

Re:OMG! (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a year ago | (#45366835)

"Do android farmer dogs dream of electric sheep with greater likelihood than other kinds of androids?"

Would have been perfect if you'd included any one of:
- used a return type
- used some form of variable naming convention
- requested at least one unapproved Android service
- noted either the dog or the sheep could get out of Apple's walled garden
- made a reference to Tron or Flatlands

Re:OMG! (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a year ago | (#45366841)

Still a better hyperbole title than what /. typically uses.

Re:OMG! (1)

ebno-10db (1459097) | about a year ago | (#45366813)

The dreaded cow drone!

I wonder if it's bull proof?

P.S. By bull I mean a male bovine, not the metaphorical use of the term.

Re:OMG! (1)

flyneye (84093) | about a year ago | (#45374557)

If they use bull proof glass. Ba Boom Ching!

Why livestock? (4, Interesting)

ebno-10db (1459097) | about a year ago | (#45366795)

Why livestock? I find the idea of using agbots for crops interesting. A possibly far-fetched idea: no-till farming [wikipedia.org] is great for soil preservation, and reduces the need for fertilizer. The downside is that it increases the need for herbicides to control weeds (controlling weeds is one of the main purposes of plowing). Suppose you could have a little army of agbots cutting or pulling out the weeds instead? It would also reduce the tendency of weeds to evolve into herbicide resistant forms (I doubt any weed could evolve to be immune to getting cut or pulled).

Re:Why livestock? (3, Interesting)

drinkypoo (153816) | about a year ago | (#45366887)

When you plant that intensively, weeds are already less prevalent.

No-tilth agriculture won't be practical for mass farming until we have robots which can do the harvesting. At that point, we will also have robots which can do weeding.

Re:Why livestock? (2)

ebno-10db (1459097) | about a year ago | (#45367219)

Re:Why livestock? (1)

Will.Woodhull (1038600) | about a year ago | (#45367861)

All hail Monsanto and its no-till RoundUp Ready GMO seeds!

...oh. Wait....

Re:Why livestock? (1)

cheese_boy (118027) | about a year ago | (#45372747)

No-till doesn't mean RoundUp Ready seeds.
It's common to do no-till planting with same seeds that have been used before in modern tillage planting methods.
If using Roundup, the field is sprayed before planting, or before the seeds emerge from the ground (same as modern tillage method)
And postemergence other herbicides are used (ex. a broadleaf killing herbicide on corn fields)
Here's a list of "do's" for notill that came up in a very quick google search:
http://www.extension.purdue.edu/extmedia/AY/AY-313.pdf

There are other studies looking at how no-till allows for use of fewer herbicides.

Re:Why livestock? (1)

Captain Hook (923766) | about a year ago | (#45366953)

(I doubt any weed could evolve to be immune to getting cut or pulled).

The robot has to recognise the plant as a weed somehow, any weed which doesn't look enough like a weed, or even better looks like the desired crop won't be pulled and that will provide natural selection for the weeds to mimic other plants.

Re:Why livestock? (3, Interesting)

ebno-10db (1459097) | about a year ago | (#45367179)

Good point about the evolution - kind of like those non-poisonous snakes that evolved to look like poisonous varieties. I guess we'll need smart agbots. I don't think a weed could evolve to the point where it's completely indistinguishable from the crop by a sufficiently advanced agbot. Parts of the spectrum outside of visible light (not that weeds couldn't change their coloring there, but it'd be tough to do the whole range from IR to UV), growth rate (weeds are generally opportunistic plants), position in the furrow? It sounds like an interesting challenge. Where can I get a job?

Another from of labor intensive agriculture that agbots might be able to do is the old American Indian style of planting the "Three Sisters [wikipedia.org] " together. It works well, but is very labor intensive. It has to be done by hand - even Old World style farmers w/ draft animals found it too labor intensive.

Re:Why livestock? (2)

Gavagai80 (1275204) | about a year ago | (#45368065)

Humans may cause weeds to evolve to look like desirable plants, but robots could perform a chemical analysis of the plant instead of using eyes.

Re:Why livestock? (2)

Will.Woodhull (1038600) | about a year ago | (#45368275)

Robots are not limited to vision systems only. I'm not sure there would be a need for any cameras on a WeedEater robot.

Give the robot a sense of taste and instruct it to take micro samples of every plant in its path. Those that do not taste like one of the selected crops get "eaten" as weeds and the chopped up remains left behind as mulch. The robot would easily handle multi crop fields. The "Three Sisters" could be brought back to mainstream American agriculture: corn, beans, and squash all planted together, just like in pre-Columbian times.

There is much room here for high end models. For instance, a model that would also pick off aphids one by one would be useful for some crops.

The technology to do this is within our reach, though some parts are not yet in our hands. We could do this with today's computers and sensor capabilities, and economies of scale would bring the price down very quickly. Power is a concern--- windmills with flywheel energy storage would provide enough power in many locations, but distributing the power to mobile points of use needs some thought. Maybe other robots dedicated to ferrying batteries between charging stations and field robots?

You could call this the "Monsanto killer" approach to commercial agriculture.

Interesting aside:

At what point in the development of electric cars will we start seeing battery exchange trucks on our remote freeways? When you are taking that backroads scenic route through the Great Empty Spaces of Wyoming, you (or your 2025 Tesla) calls ahead to arrange a rendezvous with a battery exchange truck every once in a while. No need to ever stop at a service station; just swap out the batteries where ever there is a convenient wide spot in the road along your chosen route. And you could let your Garmin GPS figure all that out for you!

Re:Why livestock? (4, Informative)

taiwanjohn (103839) | about a year ago | (#45367465)

There's a variant of no-till called pasture cropping [pasturecropping.com] which solves some of those issues by combining livestock with row crops. The field is grazed down once, then again a few days later, before the grass has recovered. This double-punch puts the grass in a semi-dormant state, so you can plant directly into the sod. As your row crops sprout, they'll have head start on the pasture plants, eventually shading them out. (They'll still keep growing, just very slowly.) After harvest, you can graze again or mow for hay, and the pasture will recover normally.

As for livestock, robots wouldn't be my first choice either. FTFA:

A livestock paddock, for example, may look uniform, but under the grass there’s a great deal of variability of soil and conditions. Levels of potassium, sulfur, and acidity can be very different even within a single square meter. The main reason is that livestock don’t pee or poop in anything like a uniform pattern

A simple solution to this is raising complementary species in managed intensive rotational grazing [wikipedia.org] as described by "Omnivore's Dilemma" author Michael Pollan in this video (10min). [youtube.com] In a nutshell: the pasture is divided into paddocks which are grazed intensively for a day or two, then rested for a few weeks. The trick is to bring poultry into the same paddock a few days after the ruminants. Chickens (for example) will go after the cow patties and kick them apart to get at the maggots inside, and in doing so, they spread the manure very effectively while also keeping the fly population down. There's no need for an expensive robot to do this job when you can have another livestock species (ie: another revenue stream) do it for free.

Re:Why livestock? (1)

nurhussein (864532) | about a year ago | (#45368671)

Robots cutting weeds. Weeds evolving immunity to being cut. This is what leads to.... ...ROBOTS VERSUS MEGAWEEDS!

A new SyFy original movie.

Fine, until you get a runaway. (1)

jbeaupre (752124) | about a year ago | (#45366901)

We're going to need some sort of special police force to deal with runaway farm robots. And catch Gene Simmons.

So you want cop rovers? (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a year ago | (#45366975)

Eventually we could have rovers everywhere I suppose.

Re:Fine, until you get a runaway. (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a year ago | (#45367173)

Will your force all have to sprout lip ferrets?

Re:Fine, until you get a runaway. (1)

Anonymous Coward | about a year ago | (#45367811)

Nah, they are too small to run away on us. There is no need for a restraining bolt.

Re:Fine, until you get a runaway. (1)

Impy the Impiuos Imp (442658) | about a year ago | (#45367985)

> Fine, until you get a runaway.

"Jimmy? Why is the 'runaway' weed-pulling bot in your room under your bed?"

Re:Fine, until you get a runaway. (1)

ArcadeMan (2766669) | about a year ago | (#45368585)

That's not a problem. When wintertime rolls around, the farm robots simply freeze to death.

Re:Fine, until you get a runaway. (1)

Sketchly (1354369) | about a year ago | (#45373491)

'........and then I was repeatedly fucked up the arse by the Artificial Insemination Robot that had gone rogue. Yes, it did look a bit like Gene Simmons, now that you ask..........'

AgriRover (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a year ago | (#45366955)

AngriRovio?

Oh the irony... (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a year ago | (#45367073)

All the illegals will be complaining about the robots taking their jobs.

It's job loss all the way down.

Re:Oh the irony... (2)

ebno-10db (1459097) | about a year ago | (#45367257)

All the illegals will be complaining about the robots taking their jobs.

They'll be the first to get jobs building and maintaining the agbots. Illegal aliens: they're not just for ag jobs anymore.

We're in Hell (1)

papasui (567265) | about a year ago | (#45367177)

The road to Hell is lined with good intentions.

why go for an inferior product? (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a year ago | (#45367703)

With my amped Agrorover bra It ain't like that... We DOMINATE the livestock and farm industry. Why settle for some third rate bot that will barely keep up.

fuc4. (-1)

Anonymous Coward | about a year ago | (#45369677)

NASA is already WAY behind. (1)

Khyber (864651) | about a year ago | (#45370763)

Pot growers already way ahead of NASA. [ledgrowersforum.co.uk]

NASA might as well just give up. They screwed up by laughing at us when we came to them with this tech in the first place.

This cannot be the first M.U.L.E. comment. (1)

ReekRend (843787) | about a year ago | (#45375531)

[nt]
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