Robotic Agriculture: Changing the Paradigms

January 2015
Original Source: Fortune

Kinze Manufacturing, a large farm equipment maker in Iowa, is developing driverless tractors like the self-driving cars that Google, Mercedes-Benz, and Nissan are prototyping.

Salients

  • As a first step, Kinze has partnered with Jaybridge Robotics to build a system which allows tractors operated by humans to offload grain into driverless trailers which follow them across the fields.

Insights

  • Growth in Productivity is also necessary in Agriculture - Given our limited land, water and labor resources, it is estimated that the efficiency of agricultural productivity must increase by 25% to meet the goal of adequately feeding the world’s population, while at the same time curbing the increasing pressure agriculture puts on the natural environment.

  • A Convergence of Technologies - Precision Ag (for Precision Agriculture) is a concept which is now widely accepted in the agricultural industries. It refers to the data that is generated by farm equipment using an array of robotic sensors to monitor operations and show where there is room for improved efficiency in time, energy and equipment use, so as to ensure better yields. Such robotic solutions act as catalysts for the convergence of Precision Ag with the Internet of Things (IoT) and cloud-computing in a new age for the farming industry.

  • Paradigm Shift - The big gains will not come from automating today’s solutions, but from meeting the necessities of always in a different way, with different solutions. So, for example, the objective is not to transform today’s big tractors into self-driven vehicles for sowing seed autonomously, but to create a fleet of much smaller seed-sowers to do the job without compacting the earth, an undesirable and damaging side-effect of the operation of the big machines.

  • Getting back to a more Sustainable Agriculture - Nowadays the biggest part of the struggle against crop diseases is fought with the intensive and indiscriminate use of chemicals, which often cause contamination of the surroundings beyond the target area. An intelligent robot equipped with specialized robotic tools could apply insecticides and herbicides more selectively, where they are needed, or, better, could use mechanical tools to keep the weeds down without the use of weedkiller, thereby dramatically reducing the quantity of herbicide applied, which would bring all kinds of economic and environmental benefits.

  • Omnipresent Drones - Drones are already much in use in this domain, above all as bases from which to capture aerial imagery, whose value lies in the afterwards processing.

  • A Workplace that is Evolving - Incorporating robots in agricultural processes allows the farmer to free up many man-hours from the more routine tasks, thereby allowing him to further develop his role as the manager of a business.

  • A Future Market - WinterGreen Research is forecasting that the agricultural robot market will grow from $817 million in 2013 to $16.3 billion by 2020. Along with such projections, another demonstration of the potential of the sector is the interest it is awakening among professional investors. It is therefore worth noting that Flextronics’ Lab IX and Innovation Endeavors, a venture capital fund backed by former Google CEO Eric Schmidt, announced in November 2014 the creation of Farm2050, an initiative that will offer funding and support to startups who want to join in the new farming revolution.