Smart Autonomous Farm Equipment
We’ve talked a lot about autonomous cars and robotic technology in general. There is one area of modern tech we have not touched on. Autonomous farm equipment. These advanced machines will be showing up on the wheat and corn fields and in apple orchards of America and other countries soon. Companies like FFRobotics and Abundant Robotics of Menlo Park, California, and CASE IH’S self-driving tractors are three of the companies that are bringing autonomy and robotics to the farm.
Food production is hard work. Tilling the fields, planting, watering and fertilizing, harvesting then repeating the process season after season. Farms have become more and more mechanized over the years. The advancements have significantly improved production and efficiency. Today’s farms will begin to see 21st-century technology incorporated into the process of growing and harvesting crops.
Robotic Fruit Pickers
Abundant Robotics uses a vacuum system that scans the orchard so it can differentiate between leaves, twigs, and branches and focus on the individual Apples. Then it uses suction to pick the fruit off the trees.
FFRobotics has a system that consists of four to twelve robotic arms that have three fingers that can twist or clip the fruit off the tree. These two systems are being tested extensively in Washington State. If all goes as planned we can expect to see these in the orchards by 2019. FFRobotics says this system can pick up to 10,000 apples in an hour.
CASE IH’S has developed the concept of self-driving tractors that can work the fields 24/7. This is the cutting edge of smart autonomous farm equipment. With a variety of implements. Tractors by Antonio Carraro Brisbane have been available, they’ve built a reputation for high quality and exceptional hillside skills. Field prep, planting, fertilizing, and harvesting can, to a large degree be performed with less manpower. These tractors are equipped with an intelligent obstacle detection system. It uses LiDAR, Radar, and infraRed sensors that utilize range-finding lasers. Also equipped with GPS, cameras, and a lot of intelligence. The farmer can monitor and control the tractor remotely using a touch screen. The Tractor can alert the farmer remotely when it encounters an obstacle. This allows the farmer to provide an alternate path or have it drive over the obstacle.
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Farmers have been struggling for years obtaining enough labor during harvest. Young Americans are not interested in this work. It has been a boon to immigrants who come up from Mexico and elsewhere to work the fields and orchards. A percentage of fruits and vegetables will still need to be picked by humans. But the bulk of the harvest can be handled by new agricultural tech. For better or worse this is the direction agriculture is going. Thousands of people will likely lose these jobs and many of them are working here legally. Changes to our immigration laws also have an effect. Farmers have to deal with availability of fewer and fewer workers. This technology can make up the difference.