ROBOTS WORKING IN FIELDS

Robots are now starting to work in the fields. Robots developed in the UK take care of each plant in the field separately and fight weeds and insects. Speaking very assertively, British entrepreneurs say, “In 5 years, robots will work in the fields instead of humans.

Robots developed by a technology company control the crop in the field, detect weeds and spray against insects.

The system consists of two robots. The robot named “Tom” travels the fields. With its special cameras, it monitors each plant in the field separately, checks how much they grow, their water needs and their health status.

All this information is transmitted to farmers’ computers in real time.

After all the data has been processed, the farmers can evaluate the situation. When it is necessary to take action, the robot called “Dick”, which you see behind me, comes into play. It is currently in the prototype stage and can take care of each plant individually,” he said.

British entrepreneurs say robots equipped with artificial intelligence will increase both the quantity and quality of the crop. The robot will detect even a single insect and apply drugs directly and locally. Thus, both the pests will be destroyed and the accumulation of pesticides in the products will be prevented.

Entrepreneurs say “In 5 years, robots will work in the fields, not humans.” They emphasize that robot field workers will both develop and become cheaper over time, just like mobile phones.

LASER ROBOTS IN AGRICULTURE

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A laser-armed robot moves through a sea of onions in the corner of an Ohio field, zapping weeds as it goes.

This field belongs to Shay Myers, a third-generation farmer whose TikTok posts on farming life are frequently shared on social media.

Last year, he began weeding his 12-hectare (30-acre) crop with two robots. The robots clamber slowly across a field, scanning beneath them for weeds that they then target with laser bursts. They are nearly three metres long, weigh 4,300kg (9,500lb), and resemble a small car.

People may witness these crimson hue bursts for microseconds. When the laser hits the cannabis, it lights up. According to Carbon Robotics, the firm that develops them, the robots are almost silent save for engine noises and can each eliminate 100,000 weeds every hour.

Carbon Robotics, like other agri-robotic firms, highlights the environmental benefits of these robots by reducing soil disturbance, which can lead to erosion, and allowing farmers to drastically reduce or even eliminate the usage of herbicides.

Herbicides and other pesticides, which can contaminate ground and surface water, damage animals and non-target plants, and have been linked to an elevated cancer risk, are under increasing pressure from farmers. At the same time, they’re combating an increase in herbicide-resistant weeds, which is fueling the search for new weed-killing methods.

AGRI-ROBOTICS

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Gautham Das, a senior lecturer in agri-robotics at the University of Lincoln in the United Kingdom declared that one of the amazing benefits of precision weeding is reduced herbicide usage. Weeds can be destroyed with lasers or ultraviolet light without the use of any chemicals. Even if robots do use herbicides, Das claims that their capacity to precisely target weeds can lower use by 90 percent compared to traditional blanket spraying.

According to Sébastien Boyer, the French-born CEO of San Francisco-based robot weeding business FarmWise, there were essentially no companies specializing in agricultural robotics five years ago, but it’s now “a burgeoning area.”

The global market for agricultural robots, which may also be programmed to do duties like sowing, harvesting, and environmental monitoring, is expected to grow from $5.4 billion in 2020 to more than $20 billion by 2026. “In agriculture, things scale up really quickly,” Myers explained.

FarmWise’s first customers were from the Salinas Valley in California, which is regarded as “America’s salad bowl” because of its lettuce, broccoli, cauliflower, and strawberries. According to Boyer, ten of the top twenty vegetable farmers in the United States now utilize the company’s robot weeders in California and Arizona. “They started working with us as an experiment at first, but now they are highly reliant on us.”

FarmWise’s next phase is to eliminate pests including aphids, thrips, and lygus bugs. According to Boyer, robots can significantly cut the consumption of fungicides and pesticides by spraying them more precisely using computer vision.

Aside from concerns about farming chemicals, labor shortages also play a role in the advancement of robots into fields. According to Myers, farm labor can be “expensive, difficult to come by, and dangerous” for those involved.

Adoption on a larger scale still faces significant obstacles. Working in locations where a battery recharge is not always available is a concern, which is why certain robots, such as those built by Carbon Robotics and FarmWise, rely on diesel power, which emits hazardous emissions and pollutants.

FarmDroid’s equipment, as well as a herbicide-spraying robot made by Ecorobotix in Switzerland, are both solar-powered.

Farm robots may soon be electrified, according to Paul Mikesell, CEO of Carbon Robotics, as batteries get lighter and more capable. According to Rose, this must be supplemented by charging infrastructure on farms. “I don’t believe we’re that far apart,” he continued.

POSSIBLE PROBLEMS ABOUT ROBOTS

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Meanwhile, according to Richard Smith, a weed science farm adviser at the University of California at Davis, using fewer herbicides may be worth some diesel consumption. “When compared to all of the other tractor work done on intense vegetable producing fields, the quantity used for auto-weeders is a minor percentage,” he stated.

Another issue is the cost. These robots are still pricey, but as more people use them, the price will drop. The robot from Carbon Robotics is about the same price as a mid-size tractor — in the hundreds of thousands of dollars.

FarmWise charges around $200 (€170) per acre for the robots’ weeding labor rather than the robots themselves. According to Boyer, offering weeding services rather than robots needs less initial investment from farmers and helped get the robotics business off the ground.

Covid has also been a difficulty, preventing access to Asian clients, investors, and semiconductors. According to Andra Keay, CEO of the non-profit Silicon Valley Robotics, the pandemic has “squeezed businesses off the runway.”

Covid has sparked interest in how robots might reduce supply chains, in addition to weeding robots.

Hydroponics, or growing plants without soil, can be used by robot-run greenhouses to produce food closer to huge population centers like New York, rather than in locations like California, where soil is richer.

Iron Ox, a California-based robotic greenhouse firm, has developed a robotic arm that scans each greenhouse plant and develops a 3D model of it to track disease and pests.

“In agriculture, especially in fresh produce, not much has changed in the last 70 years,” said Brandon Alexander, Iron Ox’s CEO, who grew up in a large Texas farming family.

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