Robot Farmers May Become Common By 2016

Yet another advance in robotics and computing is allowing for robots to be able to detect weeds in fields with a 98% accuracy rate.  The robot will then eliminate the selected weeds without using hazardous pesticides or hurting the desired crop.  The robot uses photographs that are taken of each plant and compares them to it’s database.  If the photograph doesn’t match up, then the plant is eliminated.  Trials have shown that this technique is even effective when plants overlap each other.  This robot was developed by Blue River Technology and has recently received $3.1 Million dollars for further funding.  These robots would be able to produce organic vegetables while still using mass production methods, which would reduce pesticide usage while also lowering organic food costs. 

Right now, these robots only have databases of iceberg and romaine lettuce but could easily be expanded to include many other types of vegetables or fruits.  Additionally, these robots could be also trained to detect types and locations of both helpful insects and pests.  These robots could even monitor soil moisture, soil pH, and soil nitrogen levels and report back to the farmer so that he can optimize crop yields.  This type of monitoring hasn’t been achieved and may allow for higher yields from the same amount of acreage.  Right now they are envisioning robots that maneuver themselves around the fields without human supervision but other models that have a human handler or just bolt onto the back of a tractor are possible.  With world population increasing every month, this solution may allow for large food growth areas to become more productive by keeping fields in optimal health. 

The latest report from the EPA shows that the U.S. uses 1.1 Billion pounds of  herbicides each year.  It is estimated that these robots could lower herbicide usage by 250 Million pounds of herbicide per year.  Ultimately, these robots could lower the 850 Million pounds of pesticide used as well since pest infestations could be monitored more precisely.  These pesticides and herbicides get into the environment, so any reductions would ultimately help both natural environments and human populations.  We all know how much robots have increased manufacturing output while lowering costs and now it seems that robots are poised to do the same for farming. 

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