While some farmers and others in the Ag industry disagree on when robots will become a major player in the day-to-day operations of farms, the fact is that the day is coming. And sooner than many expect.
This is good news to farms across the globe that are facing a labor shortage. Despite the promise of higher wages, farm laborers are becoming scarce. Thankfully, agribots, as they are sometimes called, can help pick up the slack.
And routine labor isn’t all robots are expected to do on the farm. Lightweight, low-cost agricultural robots are expected to transform data collection and field scouting. This will be a big help to not just farmers but agronomists and seed companies, as well. For example, a crop phenotyping robot, the TerraSentia, has been developed by scientists at the University of Illinois. The TerraSentia travels on its own between crop rows and uses various sensors to measure individual plant traits. Cameras are then able to transmit the data in real time to a computer or mobile device. The robot can be steered via an app by using virtual reality and GPS.
And there is no end to what the TerraSentia and similar agribots can be customized to do. Researchers say they are developing algorithms that will allow robots to detect and identify common diseases and measure things such as plant and corn ear height, leaf area index and biomass. By automating data collection and analytics, these robots can help improve the breeding pipeline and pinpoint why particular plant varieties respond to certain environmental conditions.
Data collected by crop-scouting robots could help plant breeders identify the genetic lineages most likely to produce the best quality and highest yields in specific locations. It also will be groundbreaking in that growers will be able to measure every plant in a field in a short period of time. While many people are concerned about cost, this type of robot is expected to cost less than $5,000 and can be transported in a car or truck.
If farmers and those who work as farm laborers worry about losing their jobs to robots, experts say this is unlikely to happen. Instead, robots will work alongside humans and help them do the jobs they can’t, or don’t want, to do.