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Hands-free farming

Robots are the farmers of the future. Technology is already here, the actual uptake will be depending on economic factors. Image credit: sompong_tom/iStock

Being a farmer meant spending a good deal of your life in the open, tilling, seeding, weeding, watering and harvesting. A lot of these activities have been made easier, and more effective, over the last fifty years by using machines to the point that today a farmer is more similar to a truck driver than to a farmer of the old days.

This automation is not the end of the line. Robots are going to push automation a notch further removing the farmer from the fields and possibly placing him in front of a video screen, most likely from remote. Walking in a farming control room will be undistinguishable at first glance from walking into a city control room.

Along with that, of course, it will come the need for re-skilling and a different set of interest. Difficult to imagine a person that loved to work in the field becoming enclosed in a room.

This sort of “extreme” automation is called hands-free farming and there are a number of researches in this area, like the one going on in Australia at the university of Wagga Wagga, in cooperation with the Food Agility Co-operative Research Centre.

Researchers are working on a 1,900-hectare farm they are using as a lab to demonstrate what robots and artificial intelligence can do. They are using robotic tractors, drones, harvesters and a variety of sensors to provide data to an artificial intelligence based autonomous control centre that takes decisions with minimal human (farmer) supervision.

Interestingly, researchers are pointing out that full automation in farming is not as far away as one might think. There are already examples of full automation in mining (watch the clip to hear about the first fully autonomous gold mine operation from a business point of view).

Mining is, in a way, a more protected environment but tech, AI in particular, can manage the increased complexity of farming. First trials are taking place night-time.

Furthermore, automation is progressing beyond the fields, to vertical farming. This is going to cut jobs in agriculture but it is going to increase demand for  engineers.

 

About Roberto Saracco

Roberto Saracco fell in love with technology and its implications long time ago. His background is in math and computer science. Until April 2017 he led the EIT Digital Italian Node and then was head of the Industrial Doctoral School of EIT Digital up to September 2018. Previously, up to December 2011 he was the Director of the Telecom Italia Future Centre in Venice, looking at the interplay of technology evolution, economics and society. At the turn of the century he led a World Bank-Infodev project to stimulate entrepreneurship in Latin America. He is a senior member of IEEE where he leads the Industry Advisory Board within the Future Directions Committee and co-chairs the Digital Reality Initiative. He teaches a Master course on Technology Forecasting and Market impact at the University of Trento. He has published over 100 papers in journals and magazines and 14 books.