The First Fully Automated Farms ?
Updated: Sep 2
Automated Harvest is Coming. Automation is becoming more appealing to farmers and investors, though advocates say not everyone is likely to benefit.
What is farm automation?
With a need to grow enough food to sustain human population growth, humans continue to innovate, and engineer the environment. It is estimated that by 2050, agricultural production will need to increase significantly from current levels to provide food and sustinance to humans on planet Earth. Now more than ever, the pressure on farmers to produce nutritious products is putting our planet’s health under even more stress. New advancements in technologies ranging from robotics and drones to computer vision software have completely transformed modern agriculture. Farmers now have access to tools that will help them meet the demands of our world’s ever-increasing population. Farm automation, also known as “smart farming”, is a combination of innovation and technology that helps farmers plant, grown and harvest with greater efficiently. The innovation we are talking about here includes robotics, aerial drones, autonomous tractors, robotic harvesters, robotic weeders, robots that plant seeds and automatic watering tools.
Advantages of farm automation
Consumers preferences are shifting towards organic and sustainably-produced products. Growing food that is organic requires significantly more effort as compared to non-organic crops. Why? Organic crops do not rely on pesticides or GMO seeds. Instread, a more wholeistic approach is taken, which often requires more weeding, crop rotation and keen attention to the crop's growth cycle. Organic farming is nothing new in the field of agriculture. Anyone who has an inkling about farming and agriculture knows about organic farming and the many benefits that it offers. However, there are certain challenges that only those in this field can comprehend. These challenges hinder the growth of this particular field. These problems also pose a dilemma for conventional farmers who want to get into organic agriculture. Farm automation technology addresses important issues related to growing organic crops, including weeding, seed planting, farm labor shortages, and changing consumer preferences. The benefits of automating farming processes are monumental. Automation technology, has the potential to help farmers produce food faster, fresher, and more sustainably. Robots and computers combind with computer-modelling tools can increase crop productivity through automation. In addition, farmers can increase crop yields, potentially reducing costs for consumers.
New Atlas: Solix Sprayer agricultural robot autonomously seeks and destroys weeds.
Robots or Humans?
Labor costs account for nearly half of the cost to plant, grow, harvest and prepare food for market. Some farmers are impacted by labor shortages. Some farmers are making a transition to growing less labor-intensive crops. Routine tasks, such as weeding, watering and harvest can be automated with robotics technology. By reducing the cost of labor, farms can be run more efficently. A single garlic robot harvester has the potential to pick an acre of garlic in one days and replace 10 farm workers.
Farm Automation Technologies
Farm automation technology has a primary purpose and that is to semi- or fully automate mundane tasks. A few examples of commonly Automation Technologies used by high-tech farmers include Autonomous tractors, Aerial Drones, Harvest Automation. Planting and Weed Removal. Machine vision is part of many automation and robotics applications used in agriculture. Tractors drive autonomously, drones or Unmanned Aerial Vehicles record the condition of the soil, robots assist in milking, feeding, and harvesting. Inspection of seeds and produce for quality and grade is also performed with machine vision technologies.
Simply put, organic farming methods are more expensive for farmers because the cost of organic methods is very high. This discourages farmers from pursuing their goals of producing organic food. Autonomous tractors are one way to help reduce the cost of organic farming. These smart tractors can be controlled using a combination of mapping and geographic information systems (GIS), Global Positioning Systems (GPS) and premapped routes. For example, Trimble Navigation has developed Trimble Autonomy which serves the agriculture industry by increasing productivity with machines that can operate autonomously, bearing more of a farmer’s daily load with user-friendly technology. Their set of tools help make Precision Agriculture Easier. Trimble has made autonomy a priority, harnessing technology to resolve some of the complex challenges that overburden today’s farmers. By delivering innovative agriculture solutions, Trimble Autonomy is able to:
Increase productivity with machines, Optimize field equipment utilization, Reduce input costs, and Minimize safety risks
Tractor automation kits are being developed by a few select technology companies, allowing tractor automation to be more accessible for farmers. Their set of components afford farmers to retrofit existing tractors, planters and harvesters by with cutting edge driverless technology that are guided by GIS, GPS and other implementation controls.
Aerial Drones can be used to map and analyze plant-growth structures, monitor leaf and plant conditions remotely and even apply liquid or powder treatments from the air. Agriculture is one of the fastest-growing markets in the commercial drone industry today. Aerial Drones are becoming an indispensable tool to help farmers become more efficient in the field, and make more informed crop management decisions. Drones can be used to measure plant health and identify crop health with drone maps, help make more informed decisions with plant count and establishment tools, and can remotely obtain valuyable aerial imagery to assess crop damage and mitigate loss
Crop Harvest Automation
Crop Harvest Automation's primary goal is to perform material handling tasks in unstructured, outdoor environments such as those typically found in commercial growing operations. Crop harvest is acheived using an array of smart robots taht work safely alongside humans. The Crop Harvest Robots require minimal training to operate, and vastly reduce production costs and improving productivity. Robots reduce direct labor headcount and costs while enabling efficiency initiatives such as resource management, just in time production, and inventory control. Robots can be used in greenhouses, hoop houses and nursery environments. They have high placement accuracy and can handle many common harvesting tasks. Harvesting fruits and vegetables can be a very labourous task. For many farmers, harvesting has proven to be a difficult problem to automate. Harvest robots must be programmed to know what harvest, while at the same time, they must avoid bruising and damage to the delicate crop. In the realm of orchards (apple, cirtrus, etc) harvest robots work along side human harvesters and pickers. One of the companies working on robotic orchard harvesting is FFRobotics, an Israel-based apple harvester that’s worked with Washington State University and the Washington Tree Fruit Research Commission, which has partnered with the initiative. Another orchard harvest company, Australia-based Ripe Robotics, will also be participating.
Seed Sowing and Weed Removal
Seed sowing is one of the many labor-intensive tasks of farming. Robotics are being developed for planting seeds (or starter plants) and weed removal. Automatic Robot Equipment for planting requires less human effort and time with less cost of implementation. A seed sowing robot is a device that helps in the planting or sowing of seeds in the desired position. Garlic for example, needs to be planted with the "pointy side up". On virtually all organic farms that are not automated, planting seeds requires a substantial amount of human efforts and also time-consuming. Robot automation aims to use smart seed sowing robot for the mentioned task. This smart seed sowing robot consists of robotic arms to sow the seeds from the seeds container. The robot arm is controlled through the sophiciated applications and artificial intellegnece. Once seeds are loaded into a porgrammed robot, the robot takes over and automates the seed sowing process using a smartly designed mechanical system. This robot reduces the efforts and the total cost of sowing as the seeds.
Weeding robotics can be incredibly useful on a farm that grows crops organically. Weeding Robots use a variety of digital toolsto tell plants from weeds. Sensors in the robot can look deep into the leaf structure and structure of the plant. Spectroscopy is used to measure three major bands of the electromagnetic spectrum including visible light and infrared light. Because each plant has a unique charaisteric pattern of light, spectroscopy looks at specific bands of the spectrum, to determine what plants are weeds and which are the crop. For exampple, Carbon Robotics is pioneering robots to help mitigate weed issues in organic farms. Their LaserWeeder, is a self-driving Carbon Robotics which has sophisticated artificial intelligence technology. This system enables the robot to instantly identify, target, and eliminate weeds using thermal energy — while rolling through the crop. Carbon Robotics’ patented lighting system enables the LaserWeeder to operate day or night in virtually all weather conditions, with millimeter accuracy.
Automated Harvest is Coming. Automation is becoming more appealing to farmers and investors, though advocates say not everyone is likely to benefit. Below, watch the BBC Reel (c) published on February 21, 2022, takes us inside an automated farm. Farming is finally entering the digital era and technological innovation is reshaping the way our food is grown. In this episode of our Follow the Food series, botanist James Wong explores the advances in digital technology that can be combined with traditional farming techniques to deliver the future of farming.