Robots To Revolutionize Farming

Discussion in 'General Discussion' started by Yard Dart, Jul 15, 2013.

  1. Yard Dart

    Yard Dart Vigilant Monkey Moderator

    On a windy morning in California's Salinas Valley, a tractor pulled a wheeled, metal contraption over rows of budding iceberg lettuce plants. Engineers from Silicon Valley tinkered with the software on a laptop to ensure the machine was eliminating the right leafy buds.
    The engineers were testing the Lettuce Bot, a machine that can "thin" a field of lettuce in the time it takes about 20 workers to do the job by hand.
    The thinner is part of a new generation of machines that target the last frontier of agricultural mechanization — fruits and vegetables destined for the fresh market, not processing, which have thus far resisted mechanization because they're sensitive to bruising.
    'Who and, now, what do you want picking your food: a machine or a human?'​
    - Erik Nicholson, national vice president of the United Farm Workers of America.

    Researchers are now designing robots for these most delicate crops by integrating advanced sensors, powerful computing, electronics, computer vision, robotic hardware and algorithms, as well as networking and high precision GPS localization technologies. Most ag robots won't be commercially available for at least a few years.
    In this region known as America's Salad Bowl, where for a century fruits and vegetables have been planted, thinned and harvested by an army of migrant workers, the machines could prove revolutionary.
    Photos: Tasty Tech Eye Candy Of The Week external-link.
    Farmers say farm robots could provide relief from recent labor shortages, lessen the unknowns of immigration reform, even reduce costs, increase quality and yield a more consistent product.
    "There aren't enough workers to take the available jobs, so the robots can come and alleviate some of that problem," said Ron Yokota, a farming operations manager at Tanimura & Antle, the Salinas-based fresh produce company that owns the field where the Lettuce Bot was being tested.
    Many sectors in U.S. agriculture have relied on machines for decades and even the harvesting of fruits and vegetables meant for processing has slowly been mechanized. But nationwide, the vast majority of fresh-market fruit is still harvested by hand.
    Research into fresh produce mechanization was dormant for years because of an over-abundance of workers and pressures from farmworker labor unions.
    In recent years, as the labor supply has tightened and competition from abroad has increased, growers have sought out machines to reduce labor costs and supplement the nation's unstable agricultural workforce. The federal government, venture capital companies and commodity boards have stepped up with funding.
    "We need to increase our efficiency, but nobody wants to work in the fields," said Stavros G. Vougioukas, professor of biological and agricultural engineering at the University of California, Davis.
    But farmworker advocates say mechanization would lead to workers losing jobs, growers using more pesticides and the food supply becoming less safe.
    Related: Shape-Shifting Plastic Powers Motors external-link.
    "The fundamental question for consumers is who and, now, what do you want picking your food; a machine or a human, who with the proper training and support, can" ... take significant steps to ensure a safer, higher quality product, said Erik Nicholson, national vice president of the United Farm Workers of America.
    On the Salinas Valley farm, entrepreneurs with Mountain View-based startup Blue River Technology are trying to show that the Lettuce Bot can not only replace two dozen workers, but also improve production.
    "Using Lettuce Bot can produce more lettuce plants than doing it any other way," said Jorge Heraud, the company's co-founder and CEO.
    After a lettuce field is planted, growers typically hire a crew of farmworkers who use hoes to remove excess plants to give space for others to grow into full lettuce heads. The Lettuce Bot uses video cameras and visual-recognition software to identify which lettuce plants to eliminate with a squirt of concentrated fertilizer that kills the unwanted buds while enriching the soil.
    Blue River, which has raised more than $3 million in venture capital, also plans to develop machines to automate weeding — and eventually harvesting — using many of the same technologies.
    Another company, San Diego-based Vision Robotics, is developing a similar lettuce thinner as well as a pruner for wine grapes. The pruner uses robotic arms and cameras to photograph and create a computerized model of the vines, figure out the canes' orientation and the location of buds — all to decide which canes to cut down.
    Fresh fruit harvesting remains the biggest challenge.
    Machines have proved not only clumsy, but inadequate in selecting ripe produce. In addition to blunders in deciphering color and feel, machines have a hard time distinguishing produce from leaves and branches. And most importantly, matching the dexterity and speed of farmworkers has proved elusive.
    "The hand-eye coordination workers have is really amazing, and they can pick incredibly fast. To replicate that in a machine, at the speed humans do and in an economical manner, we're still pretty far away," said Daniel L. Schmoldt at the U.S. Agriculture Department's National Institute of Food and Agriculture.
    Related: The Eyes Have It: College Adopts Iris Scans external-link.
    In southern California, engineers with the Spanish company Agrobot are taking on the challenge by working with local growers to test a strawberry harvester.
    The machine is equipped with 24 arms whose movement is directed through an optical sensor; it allows the robot to make a choice based on fruit color, quality and size. The berries are plucked and placed on a conveyor belt, where the fruit is packed by a worker.
    Still, the harvester collects only strawberries that are hanging on the sides of the bed, hence California's strawberry fields would have to be reshaped to accommodate the machine, including farming in single rows, raising the beds and even growing varieties with fewer clusters.
    Experts say it will take at least 10 years for harvesters to be available commercially for most fresh-market fruit — not a moment too soon for farmers worried about the availability of workers, said Lupe Sandoval, managing director of the California Farm Labor Contractor Association.
    "If you can put a man on the moon," Sandoval said, "you can figure out how to pick fruit with a machine."[/QUOTE]
    Engineers designing robots to revolutionize farming, ease labor woes | Fox News

    As I read this article I for one marveled in the development of the robotic technology and the ramifications to the work force that currently serves this industry. As my thoughts have a funny way of twisting things.... my next thought was... we don't need an immigration bill.... just lock down the borders... we have American ingenuity.

    And then my next thought was, what would we as a society do if we embraced such technology in say the next 10 to 15 years and nobody was skilled anymore in the task of harvesting produce, fruit, wheat, corn and so on and we were totally dependent on the software to decide on when and how to plant, maintain and pick the harvest.

    What happens when we are hit with an EMP, cyber attack to the grid or massive solar flare? All the people are going to starve that much faster and not even have a clue on how to work a farm.... just a bunch of computer programmers and operators looking for where their next meal is coming from. Technology is cool...and a curse to our way of life!!
    Mindgrinder and Icefoot like this.
  2. Icefoot

    Icefoot Monkey+

    YD, your observations are some of the concerns Ted Kaczynski outlined in his dissertation concerning technology and our future. His focus was more on the freedom aspect (more industrialized technology=less freedom) but he also raised warnings about losing basic skills necessary for survival when the technology fails.

    Robots providing basic services necessary to survive is pretty scary when you stop and realize the more we depend on them, the greater and faster the loss of life when the technology no longer works for whatever reason. Heck, it won't even take a malicious event. Just incompetent programmers that can't write dependable software uploading "fixes". There are far more of those out there than cyberterrorists and nobody is hunting the incompetent programmers to eliminate them so they proliferate freely.

    I saw a quote way back in the 1980's when I started working with computers that rings truer now than then: "If builders built buildings the way programmers write programs, the first woodpecker that came along would destroy civilization".

    The Ag robot article and your thoughts about them just go to underscore the importance of backyard gardening skills...
    Mindgrinder and Yard Dart like this.
  3. Yard Dart

    Yard Dart Vigilant Monkey Moderator

    I would not mind having a little cabin in the woods like old Ted ;)
    Though I disagree with his tactics/activities to make his point....

    Technology will continue to march forward with innovations like the article discusses, to make life easier and to overcome a shrinking workforce in the ag community. As you said @Icefoot, the knowledge and experience in gardening and farming will be even more important to us and our prep's.
    Mindgrinder and Icefoot like this.
  4. Mindgrinder

    Mindgrinder Karma Pirate Ninja|RIP 12-25-2017

    VERY thoughts are mixed.
    I'd very much like to see a society where basic food, shelter and information are "open source"/"at no charge if it can be downloaded". I'm not a big advocate of abandoning "work ethic" and/or "hard labor" because it's what we are designed to do. What really causes me grief is the internet. We have a tool to replicate education for FREE but we try to box it in to a patent/copyright structure that is artificially scarce for a profit motive.....Can we overcome this childish greed to feed the world?

    If YOU were the guy/gal who invented a Star Trek replicator that turned carbon into apples would you feed the world or patent it up and sell apple sauce, wine and biofuel for a profit?

  5. kellory

    kellory An unemployed Jester, is nobody's fool. Banned

    mysterymet likes this.
  6. Mindgrinder

    Mindgrinder Karma Pirate Ninja|RIP 12-25-2017

    Entirely different. You can't crtl+c, crtl+v physical property.
    Charging $500 for a Uni text book is runaway greed.
    Downloading it for less than a pennies worth of electricity? Priceless sharing, not theft.
    Filling out a patent form should not make you "God" of an idea for all eternity.
    "I got here first so nobody can ever think up the same thing or use it without paying me!!!" Childish greed. It's MY IDEA....YOU CAN NEVER THINK IT WITHOUT ME PROFITING! Childish greed. I realize you don't get it Kel...or selfishly refuse to see reason...but that's ok. Keep on denying medicine and education to the 3rd world and then wave your flag claiming you give them billions in foreign aid each year.

  7. Mindgrinder

    Mindgrinder Karma Pirate Ninja|RIP 12-25-2017

  8. kellory

    kellory An unemployed Jester, is nobody's fool. Banned

    Can't share what you haven't a Right to, all you can do is steal more. Just grab your trashcan and smash another window, and take what you feel you are entitled to. Don't forget to chant "Travon, Travon, while you do, like every other looter.;)
  9. DarkLight

    DarkLight Live Long and Prosper - On Hiatus

    Am I the only one who had the thought that the underlying premise is total Bull-****?

    Even using the questionably legitimate numbers the US Government puts out, California has 8.6% unemployment as of May 2013 (List of U.S. states by unemployment rate - Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia). In the three counties that encompass the Salinas Valley, the estimated population is 634,782 people. Using the average for the state...that's 54,591 UNEMPLOYED PEOPLE...just in the local county!

    We have GOT to quit promoting laziness, sloth and the entitlement attitude! How many of those unemployed people who "can't work for the farm" are going to get that same produce at OUR expense?

    F*** THIS S***!
  10. Mindgrinder

    Mindgrinder Karma Pirate Ninja|RIP 12-25-2017

    Very serious question....
    Do you think Africans are starving because they are lazy?
    Given the you think a starving person would be willing or unwilling to shovel a truck load of dirt for an hour in exchange for 10 cans of chunky beef stew?
    (figuring 1 hr labor is worth $20 and 10 cans of chunky the same)

    I agree wholeheartedly with your point aboot promoting laziness...
    The biggest part of the problem I see is the memes.
    Talk to someone under 25 and you'll notice they say "like" constantly and if queried aboot politics, crime or generally any serious problem the response will be something like this...
    "THEY should do something about that..."
    THEY being the gov, police, politicians or ANYBODY other than themselves.
    Another sickening meme...
    "It's "like" in that movie...."

    It's sad.

  11. Mindgrinder

    Mindgrinder Karma Pirate Ninja|RIP 12-25-2017

    More often than naught when you watch a video on youtube you are violating copyright.

    Thieving hypocrite.
  12. kellory

    kellory An unemployed Jester, is nobody's fool. Banned

    I will not knowingly violate either copyright or patent.
  13. Mindgrinder

    Mindgrinder Karma Pirate Ninja|RIP 12-25-2017

  14. kellory

    kellory An unemployed Jester, is nobody's fool. Banned

    No, I do not wear nondescript overpriced pimp matter who designed it.
  15. Yard Dart

    Yard Dart Vigilant Monkey Moderator

    Icefoot likes this.
  16. DarkLight

    DarkLight Live Long and Prosper - On Hiatus

    Your very serious question has nothing to do with this discussion, unfortunately for you. It's a straw man argument at best and race-baiting at worst. No, I'm not accusing you if race-baiting.

    This equipment was not being tested in Africa, it was being tested in California.

    The statement was not made that there are no Africans to fill the jobs, but that there were not enough PEOPLE.

    The article wasn't about creating arable land where there was none to begin with and was only tangentially about making existing crops more bountiful, it was about doing something with a machine instead of a person...ostensibly because there aren't enough people in a state with 8.6% unemployment which equates to ~50,000 people who very well may be willing to shovel dirt for 10 cans of stew but AREN'T for whatever reason.

    I'm not trying to pick a fight but I'm also not getting sidetracked by issues that are unrelated to the conversation at hand.

    And you jibes and snide USA comments don't help your case. Like it or not, there are plenty of instances of "The Crown" doing as bad or worse than much of what you piss and moan about the US doing so just give it a rest.
    Yard Dart, BTPost and kellory like this.
  17. DarkLight

    DarkLight Live Long and Prosper - On Hiatus

    I'm beginning to LOATHE typing on my phone. Sorry for the typo's...
  18. Yard Dart

    Yard Dart Vigilant Monkey Moderator

    I agree with that... my droid kills me most days, trying to "help" me, typing a message. It is about time for an upgrade next month and not sure what I am going to do.
  19. Icefoot

    Icefoot Monkey+

    How about a CME/EMP upgrade? That would fix the problems with the phone always trying to "help" you and Darklight won't have to loathe typing on his phone anymore... ;)
    Mindgrinder and Yard Dart like this.
  20. ghrit

    ghrit Bad company Administrator Founding Member

    How about a soccer style drop kick off a dock? [winkthumb]
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