Why robots are the future of farming

Robot agricole

Photo credit: Sweeper project Agro Food Robotics Wageningen University & Research

Collecting eggs, packing tomatoes, weeding, checking animal well-being, harvesting fruit, and detecting parasites in harvests are monotonous and sometimes difficult tasks. 

In the not so distant future, they could well be carried out by robots, like the ones developed by researchers from the agrofood robotics program at Wageningen University in the Netherlands to pick peppers, for example. 

Due to growing mechanization and new technologies, certain working conditions in the farming sector have deteriorated. Workers may work alone or in noisy rooms with protective clothing and ear muffs without any social interaction. A labor shortage is also already being experienced in areas of the world such as the Netherlands, the United Kingdom, Japan and China. Turning to robots could make up for this lack while increasing farming productivity. 

At Wageningen University, some sixty researchers are working on developing robots capable of carrying out agricultural work, such as weeding, harvesting and packing, 24 hours a day, seven days a week. 

Robots more precise than humans at menial tasks 

Two types of farming robots exist: airborne and motorized robots on the ground, which transport tools and products, and robots equipped with arms and hands to pick products separately and pack them. 

Thanks to their sensors and cameras, these robots are more precise than humans at menial tasks. At the same time, they collect data about the time and place and can even detect diseases and parasites and treat them locally, which leads to a reduction in the use of pesticides.
However, some of these processes prove to be complicated and robots are not yet able to carry out all of them correctly. The researchers are particularly working on improving the cameras and articulated arms.

Robots have other advantages: they are not affected by extreme temperatures and they do not damage the ground due to their weight.

The researchers from Wageningen University predict that in ten to twenty years’ time robots will be carrying out all repetitive menial tasks. And their low cost will also make them affordable for small farms. Part of farmers’ work will consist in supervising the smooth running of the processes from a control room and adjusting the robots’ settings. 

SOURCE:

“How robots make agriculture more sustainable,” Innovation Origins, December 9, 2020 - innovationorigins.com/how-robots-make-agriculture-more-sustainable