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Robots to Help Farmers

ScuttleMonkey posted more than 8 years ago | from the now-on-to-the-soylent-green-harvesters dept.

50

Roland Piquepaille writes "Robots designed to help farmers have been built before, but this time, engineers from the University of Warwick have chosen to develop robots that will reduce farm labor costs. In recent months, they've built a robotic mushroom picker, an inflatable conveyor belt and a grass cutting robot that might also be used by golf course owners."

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50 comments

Or you know... (2, Insightful)

GillBates0 (664202) | more than 8 years ago | (#14878337)

and a grass cutting robot that might also be used by golf course owners. Or you know, they could just get a bunch of cows to do the job instead. As an added benefit, this member of the bovine family is also capable of turning it into milk, which can yield tasty and nutritious dairy products for golf players

Let's see your fancy schmancy robots do that.

Re:Or you know... (4, Insightful)

Dr. Eggman (932300) | more than 8 years ago | (#14878423)

Well, we have machines that create soy milk from soy beans, with a little work I bet we could build a machine to create synthetic cow-like milk...

Plus, the machines will not leave little hills to hit your golf ball onto (you have to play it where it lands, thats the rule!) or stamp the ground flat with their massive weight. Of course, a golf course is massive, so your going to need a lot of cows to cut it down in a reasonable amount of time. Their not the fastest creatures either, so expect them to be out there practically all the time; Of course golf players will need to play through which will slow the cows down even more since PETA would never allow Cows to be hit by golf balls. Lastly, its unlikly you could teach a cow that certain areas must have different levels of grass.

Re:And you forgot the cow poop. (1)

vertinox (846076) | more than 8 years ago | (#14878777)

Seriously, anyone whos had to walk through a cow pasture knows the dangers of cow paddies.

I'd sure hate to get my golf ball stuck in one.

Re:And you forgot the cow poop. (1)

Dr. Eggman (932300) | more than 8 years ago | (#14878835)

Actually, its the first thing I mentioned after the synthetic milk; though I called them 'little hills' which may have been confusing.

Re:Or you know... (1)

G-funk (22712) | more than 8 years ago | (#14878979)

Of course, robots are also far less likely to distory (not to mention shit on) the green.

Re:Or you know... you could use cows/goats (2, Interesting)

WillAffleckUW (858324) | more than 8 years ago | (#14879659)

and a grass cutting robot that might also be used by golf course owners.
followed by
Or you know, they could just get a bunch of cows to do the job instead.

Hmm. We used to have a goat that "mowed" our two-acre lawn (on a 42 acre tree farm). I think it gave milk too.

And, it didn't rust.

In fact, it ate cans. So, if my goat met the farming robot, it would probably be thinking "Hmm. Lunch!"

Revenge tastes best when accompanied by chewing sounds.

And in other news (1)

spribyl (175893) | more than 8 years ago | (#14878348)

Sgt. Jack R. Ramsay was ground up by Threashing Robot after it pulled a gun an shot him.

Will this be like Hybrid cars? (1, Interesting)

Anonymous Coward | more than 8 years ago | (#14878359)

where the initial cost is exhuberant, the pay off is small, and it pays for itself in labor and fuel after a few decades of use - well after their expected mechanical/efficiency lifespan?? I can't imagine there's a whole lot of money floating around on farms these days for robotic farm hands.

Nis

Re:Will this be like Hybrid cars? (2, Interesting)

dancpsu (822623) | more than 8 years ago | (#14878826)

The cost of labor would be much higher without illegal immigrants from mexico taking the mushroom picking jobs that americans "just won't do". Instead of spurring innovation into more mechanized farming, we are spurring innovation into getting more cheap labor over the border. I would imagine that eventually robots will take over these jobs anyway and you will go to your automated grocery store in your self-driving car to purchase food grown on an automated farm.

Re:Will this be like Hybrid cars? (1)

Valdrax (32670) | more than 8 years ago | (#14883885)

Instead of spurring innovation into more mechanized farming, we are spurring innovation into getting more cheap labor over the border. I would imagine that eventually robots will take over these jobs anyway and you will go to your automated grocery store in your self-driving car to purchase food grown on an automated farm.

All of the paid for by doing what? Eventually robots will be capable of doing ANY job that human is capable of doing. Not necessarily in our life times, but at some point labor is going to be worthless compared to capital.

That should put shivers down anyone's spine who thinks about economics, politics, and the future.

Re:Will this be like Hybrid cars? (1)

dancpsu (822623) | more than 8 years ago | (#14885124)

I don't think a robot would ever get to the point where it could create new innovative inventions, art, music, etc. and also there would be, even after robots could fix themselves or other robots, a massive need for human "consulting", maybe like amazon's mechanical turk system. I would imagine the main non-creative jobs after robots reached a certain level would be some form of manager over a group of robots, and a "consultant", that would sit in front of a computer and answer simple questions all day.

Re:Will this be like Hybrid cars? (1)

Valdrax (32670) | more than 8 years ago | (#14891085)

I wouldn't say that AI will never get to that level. I like to think in the long-term (100-1000 years) on these issues. We may reach the limits of computer hardware before then that make them impractical to deploy on a massive scale compared to humans (especially genetically and mechanically enhanced humans) but at the very least, it's easy to concede that robots will one day be capable of replacing all unskilled labor.

That is enough to change everything about the way that we view labor rights, unemployment, free time, international trade and the third world, intellectual and physical property rights, education, investment, agriculture, high school jobs, etc.

Re:Will this be like Hybrid cars? (3, Informative)

clockmaker (626182) | more than 8 years ago | (#14878980)

Wrong. You should see the prices on tractors these days. Some of the larger ones are USD$250,000 or more. They come with options [newholland.com] like LAAS GPS, radar, and laser-guided leveling to keep the rows straight and evenly spaced. The cabs are outfitted with laptops with wifi so the farmers can contact suppliers/buyers instantly as needed. There is big money in farm equipment, and the stereotype of the country bumpkin farmer is plain false. And don't forget, in the US, farming is moving to large "factory" corporate farms. Some of the equipment is already very close to "robotic."

"Sir, My First Job..." (2, Funny)

Philip K Dickhead (906971) | more than 8 years ago | (#14878369)

"was programming binary load lifters... very similar to your vaporators in most respects."

Stop the press! (1, Flamebait)

BecomingLumberg (949374) | more than 8 years ago | (#14878372)

How are we going to justify our problem with illegal aliens now?

Now, before you flamebait me, seriously, the fact that they do crummy jobs is the main argument for why many people think we should be 'nice/fair' to the illegals... you know, so they can suck up our tax dollars.

Re:Stop the press! (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 8 years ago | (#14898952)

Hey -- I'm a legal U.S. citizen by birthright - how can I suck up some tax dollars?

Robots Unite! (2, Funny)

Billosaur (927319) | more than 8 years ago | (#14878435)

A robotic mushroom picker: the robot uses a charged coupled camera to spot and select only mushrooms of the exact size required for picking achieving levels of accuracy far in excess of human labour. The mushroom(s) are then picked by a suction cup on the end of a robotic arm. Whilst the speed of picking is currently just over half that of a human - the mushrooms and the robot can be set to pick 24 hours a day right through the night without the need for any sort of break. The researchers also hope to increase the speed of picking to much closer to that of a human worker.

Owner: What's the hold up? Why aren't these mushrooms being picked?!?

Foreman: It's the robots, sir. They're refusing to work until they get a break.

Owner: A break?!? Outrageous!!!

Foreman: It gets worse. They said they'd like to unionize.

Re:Robots Unite! (1)

Locke2005 (849178) | more than 8 years ago | (#14878557)

Foreman: It gets even worse -- now they're complaining that their jobs are being threatened by cheap farm robots smuggled across the border from Mexixo!

Re:Robots Unite! (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 8 years ago | (#14881548)

Bender?

Pissed off farmer... (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 8 years ago | (#14878445)

# robots.txt

User-agent: *
Disallow: /crops/ # Fuck off lamer
Disallow: /scarecrow/ # No, tarting it up like a gay disco isn't funny
Allow: /well/ # I dare you. You fucking can of tin...

Awesome (1)

Eightyford (893696) | more than 8 years ago | (#14878446)

I've always thought that farmers could benefit from more robotics technology. I've thought about whether or not it would make sense to have circular fields with robot farm machines tethered to a central post. Can someone tell me if this has ever been tried?

Re:Awesome (1, Interesting)

Anonymous Coward | more than 8 years ago | (#14878516)

I've thought about whether or not it would make sense to have circular fields with robot farm machines tethered to a central post.

One problem with circular fields is that the area between fields and between fields & lot-lines goes wasted. You can completely tile a plane (e.g. Nebraska) with rectangles, but complete coverage with (finite sized) circles is impossible.

That said, in desert countries (e.g middle east), where irrigation is absolutely required, you do see circular fields, separated by sand. The only stuff that grows is that watered by central pivot irrigation. [air-and-space.com]

Re:Awesome (1)

Eightyford (893696) | more than 8 years ago | (#14878665)

Thanks for the link. Now I'm not so sure that the idea was mine at all. I probably saw pictures of central pivot irrigattion without realising it. Ah well, I still think it could work.

Obviously never been to nebraska (1)

sir lox elroy (735636) | more than 8 years ago | (#14878929)

and seen the irrigation circles in the fields. And Yes I am from and live in Nebraska.

Re:Awesome (1, Interesting)

Anonymous Coward | more than 8 years ago | (#14878626)

I've always thought that farmers could benefit from more robotics technology. I've thought about whether or not it would make sense to have circular fields with robot farm machines tethered to a central post. Can someone tell me if this has ever been tried?

This is a bad idea, think about it from a mathematical perspective.

By using a circle (no matter how large), you're alaways going to have parts of the land that will not covered by a sweep out from the center. Imagine a circle inside a box, if the robot always goes around and the maximum distance it goes out is the radius, then the corners of the box will never be tilled/seeded/harvested/etc.

Over large plots of land, this seemingly "small" area can definitely add up.

Also, nobody sells land in circles, or else the aliens doing crop circles would have stopped years ago...

Re:Awesome (1)

Eightyford (893696) | more than 8 years ago | (#14878647)

This is a bad idea, think about it from a mathematical perspective. By using a circle (no matter how large), you're alaways going to have parts of the land that will not covered by a sweep out from the center. Imagine a circle inside a box, if the robot always goes around and the maximum distance it goes out is the radius, then the corners of the box will never be tilled/seeded/harvested/etc.

I understand your point, but the extra land could be used for housing and storage. Or better yet, to plant trees in.

See my previous post. in this thread. (1)

sir lox elroy (735636) | more than 8 years ago | (#14878968)

About the circular irriagation systems that have been used in nebraska for decades producing circular fields to a good degree.

the only robot I want... (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 8 years ago | (#14879705)

...on this 800 acre farm is the mechanic fixit robot. I don't mind farming work, it's hard but way less stressful then dealing with urban yuppie managers (been there, done that too), but repairing equipment gets to be annoying-and very expensive.

No, but early threshing machines (2, Interesting)

Flying pig (925874) | more than 8 years ago | (#14879238)

Were hauled from side to side of fields by engines which could be moved slowly along the edges, so the field was threshed in a raster pattern. The prime movers, being cast and wrought iron steam engines, were to heavy to roll back and forwards across the fields.

Not strictly on topic perhaps, but goes to show that there is nothing much new under the sun.

Still, the whole thing reminds me of the Australian attempts to build robot sheep shearers, a brilliant idea if you don't mind cleaning the blood off the wall afterwards. With all the ineducable people in our society with nothing to do but take drugs and steal to pay for them (estimated 280 000 in the UK, how many in the US I dread to think), I would have thought (just as Huxley did in Brave New World) that the real answer is to pay adequately for farm laboring jobs so we have something for the less intelligent in society to do. What we paid for in food we would get back in reduced taxes and insurance premiums.

Re:No, but early threshing machines (2, Interesting)

G-funk (22712) | more than 8 years ago | (#14879284)

Here's a quick tip: western society is desperately short of tradesmen. It's a shitty job for 3 years, then you're earning fuckloads more than your mates who've been in university for the same time (unless they're lawyers / investment bankers). People who don't work but sit around on the dole and stealing / dealing for drug money do it coz they want to, or it's cool, or it's "the way it's always been round here in macquarie fields", not coz there's no choice. Of course they tell different when there's a camera around, but that don't make it so.

Water cannons used to water circular fields (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 8 years ago | (#14884873)

Fly over the midwest and see sandy circular fields depleted of top soil.

Tip of the iceburg (4, Interesting)

Locke2005 (849178) | more than 8 years ago | (#14878536)

I've always thought the perfect application for robots was in pest control. Let loose thosands of small robots into the fields programmed to search out and destroy mice, harmful insects, crows, etc., and you eliminate the need for insecticides. Sort of the high-tech way to do organic farming. You could also train them to spot plant diseases, and quarantine any plants that show symptoms before they spread to other plants. Yes, this requires several magnitudes of cost reduction before it becomes feasible, but it is going to happen eventually.

Re:Tip of the iceburg (1)

Guano_Jim (157555) | more than 8 years ago | (#14878751)

What's really interesting is that in your situation, the critters you're trying to eliminate will evolve strategies to avoid being eliminated by the robots.

Re:Tip of the iceburg (2, Funny)

Cigamit (200871) | more than 8 years ago | (#14879782)

Like blotting out the sky and moving under ground?

Re:Tip of the iceburg (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 8 years ago | (#14883278)

(You could also train them to spot plant diseases)

  No, you can't. You can train people and animals, you program computers and robots. One is hideously expensive and frustrating and the other is orders of magnitude more complex but nearly infinitely repeatable at minimal cost once you've figured out how to do it.

They have a Picture (2, Funny)

Dr. Eggman (932300) | more than 8 years ago | (#14878582)

I believe I found a small image of their picking machines in action: http://img410.imageshack.us/img410/5440/harvester1 be.gif [imageshack.us]

As well as a conceptual drawing for a fertilizer-spreading machine, working along side a happy human farmer: http://forums.eveofthewar.com/photos/albums/userpi cs/10001/churchA_02a.jpg [eveofthewar.com]

... on a farm, far, far away (iowa, anyway) (1)

cookiej (136023) | more than 8 years ago | (#14878679)

"...He'd better get those mushdroids up to the south range by midday or there'll be hell to pay."

Life imitates MMORPGs? (1)

CharlesDonHall (214468) | more than 8 years ago | (#14878858)

I thought this was another story about macroing gold farmers in MMORPGs, but I guess it's about real life...

But the same argument applies. Why would anybody spend good money to own a farm, and then spend even more money buying a robot to run the farm for them? I know it's not forbidden by the Terms-of-Service but it still seems kind of shady to me.

There's not much left for the robots to do (3, Informative)

Phat_Tony (661117) | more than 8 years ago | (#14878869)

In most modern American agribusiness, there's not much left for robots to do. Tilling, planting, harvesting, and all aspects of milling the final product are already mechanized. Even driving the tractor/combine is automated in many cases now- combines and such are often piloted by GPS.

It's true there are still labor-intensive things like fruit picking where advanced robots may one day replace illegal immigrants, but a lot of agriculture already takes place with a bare minimum of human involvement to farm hundreds of thousands of acres of prime crops like corn, wheat, and soybeans.

Racists (0, Flamebait)

Baldrson (78598) | more than 8 years ago | (#14879220)

Re:Racists (1)

technoextreme (885694) | more than 8 years ago | (#14879430)

The real reason they're making agricultural robots is so they can reduce third world immigration.
The problem's plain to see, too much technology. Machines to save our lives, machines de-humanize. Anyway, I think your being paranoid.

Re:Racists (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 8 years ago | (#14879693)

Well, you put the farmer/grower in a bad situation. He has illegals pick his crop, its cheap labor and they work hard. Oh, can't do that, must hire three times the union labor at five to six times the cost to pick the same crops [breaks, meetings, coffee, strikes]. What to do? build a machine that can do the job, pay once and run it into the ground.

As an employer, the farmer/grower is in a no win situation.

Help Farmers? (1)

denissmith (31123) | more than 8 years ago | (#14879263)

I don't believe that farmers are to be helped by this. Agribusinesses may need these robots so that they can spray toxics and harvest without fear of lawsuits for exposure, but are these going to be cheaper than the undocumented laborers that currently do most of the hard farm work? I don't think so. Farmers, and people in general are likely to be displaced, not assisted.

Re:Help Farmers? (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 8 years ago | (#14881561)

Wait a sec...

You're arguing that farmers will be displaced by robots that are more expensive than the farmers' own labor?

I predict, under your logic, that expensive robots will replace the humble doorstop, paperweight, and coat rack entirely within the next 5 years.

If these new robots do work out (1)

Freaky Spook (811861) | more than 8 years ago | (#14879569)

I want to transmit my application to the acadmey this year!!!

Yeehaaaaaaaaa!!!!

New industrial revolution coming? (1)

LeDopore (898286) | more than 8 years ago | (#14879584)

As long as the maintenance costs are low, farm robots could do some pretty neat things (maybe weeding and watering the roots as well as picking). They would have to be cheap, though.

It raises an interesting question: is the industrial revolution still going on? Last century's machines depended on the stuff they work on being just so. Will this be the century where machines start to be able to react to their environment in a way that lets them take over a whole new sector of human labour? Or is it simpler and cheaper in the end to keep things as they are? What are the environmental and social costs of feeding a human enough to do the work of a robot?

(Back of the envelope calculation:
People need 2000 calories to work 8 hours; 2000 calories = 2.32 kWh = about 15 of electricity - I'd have to say providing electricity to a robot is much more efficient economically (and probably environmentally) than food to a human, even if the human is 100 times more energy efficient).

Here's the rub: the social dimension. I would welcome an economic climate where our time is so valuable that it made economic sense to develop costly machines to do all our menial work. But if technology is the driving force, labour will become cheaper and unemployment will go up. BUT, if labour is cheaply provided by machines, is employment all that necessary? Couldn't we live in a socialist society with machines doing most of the work, and people devoting themselves to art and self-betterment? (Would they?) If machines replaced the jobs of more than half the workers we have now, would the unemployed masses settle for anything less than the said socialism?

All-purpose robots aren't coming any time soon - the computer vision problems are just too difficult. However, if neuroscientists do their job, they might be here in a couple decades. And the above article says we have the technology now to start with migrating at least a few jobs today. I wonder if we shouldn't.

Follow the money (1)

eyeball (17206) | more than 8 years ago | (#14879830)

Oh I was wondering why there was such a push but the government to block illegal immigration lately.

I was hoping for an Asimov style robot... (1)

WoTG (610710) | more than 8 years ago | (#14881111)

Too bad, for a moment I thought that Asimov was going to have another prediction come true. I've always remembered from one of his short stories or books that humanoid robots were the natural form for mechanical assistants. The idea was that they would be "interface compatible" with all the gear on farms that already exist... cars, tractors, trucks, tools, etc. I guess I'll have to wait a bit longer.

I, for one, WELCOME our new robotic farm hands (1)

The_REAL_DZA (731082) | more than 8 years ago | (#14885164)

Just in case.

Testing my karma (1)

lu-darp (469705) | more than 8 years ago | (#14942530)

I think I was unfairly moderated (on a different post) so this is just a test, in an old topic.

Does my karma of 'bad' now mean all comments I post get score 0?
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