Agriculture and technology. These are two industries that have always been integral to global revolution over the years. Early farmers enjoyed higher crop yields due to the invention of the first hoes. Later, during the industrial revolution, farm machinery completely changed how farmers worked. Innovation has always been at the core of agricultural revolution.
In 2018, we are right in the middle of Industry 4.0, and once again the agriculture industry is ahead of the curve. As early as 2002, John Deere had already introduced precision agriculture by leveraging the GPS technology. The next step according to industry experts is the incorporation of robotics into almost all aspects of agriculture—farming and also processing.
To prove that this is indeed where the agriculture industry is headed, John Deere acquired Blue River Technology on 1st September 2017, a leader in applying machine learning to agriculture.
On the other hand, a universal robot, the UR5 is currently being used by Nordic Sugar—one of Europe’s largest sugar factories for a variety of tasks.
Robotics Use in Todays Agriculture
Research by IDTechEx shows that the agbots industry is a $3 billion industry and it is expected to grow to $6 billion by 2022.
Agbots (Agriculture Robots) have so far been doing spectacular feats. Autonomous tractors, robotic weeding, milking robots and a robot sheep shearer are just a few examples.
The conversation around automatic milking system started around 1970. However, it wasn’t until 1992 that the first milking robots appeared in the Netherlands. The robots then spread throughout the world, and by 2001, more than 1,100 farms were using AMS (Automatic Milking Systems)
In 2016, DeLaval, a large-scale Swedish producer of dairy, announced its intention to install 24 robotic milking machines and to begin using them entirely by 2017. The phenomenon has been replicated across the world with more and more farms adopting robotic milking systems.
Robot sheep shearing.
A robot sheep Shearer has also been around for quite a while, but it is not as popular because of the lack of efficiency. A robot sheep shearer takes a considerable amount of time while a human being can do the same job in less than ten minutes.
The above technologies have created excitement; there is an anticipation that after the manufacturing industry, the agriculture industry is next in line to experience the robotics revolution.
So, What Should We Expect from Agriculture Of The Future?
Fully Integrated and efficient harvesting robots. At the moment, human beings are still better than robots when it comes to harvesting. However, research and large-scale testing are ongoing to make automatic or robotics harvesting fast and efficient.
In California and Florida robotic vehicles that can pick strawberries are being tested. Elsewhere in Australia, a robotic apple picker is also being tested.
As the impact of robotics on agriculture industry increases, there is a possibility of a future where agbots will efficiently harvest any crop.
Agriculture Swarm Robots.Swarm robotics as a genre attempts to mirror how social organisms collaboratively work together to achieve a common goal. Think about ants for instance or bees; each bee performs a specific task for the benefit of all.
Similarly, the farms of the future are expected to employ swarm agbots that will till the land, sow, tend, harvest and process.
Agbots employing advanced machine vision. Essentially, this is the ability of a machine to see. There is an expectation that farms of the future will have robots that can integrate advanced machine vision in a bid to perform precisely and efficiently in an agriculture environment.
Correct planting, for instance, requires precision. Machine vision can provide for this. Steps have already been made in this field; John Deer Autotrac Tractors can plant lines of crops with a minimum distance of three centimeters.
However, there is still a lot of room for more growth and companies involved with creating robots can take advantage of this. Universal robot a leading creator of collaborative robots is one such company that has already taken considerable steps.
According to FAO, 60% of the world’s population depends on agriculture. An even more dire statistic is that the world’s population is expected to rise from the current 7.3 billion to 9.7 billion in 2050. Simply stated, the need for more food will increase.
The only way to increase crop yield is to embrace the benefits robotics brings to the table.