Monday, July 15, 2013

Out Here In the Fields: AgroRobots

From Market Montage:
We've often discussed the role of automation as a retardant to traditional job growth, but there are some really "scary" things happening out there nowadays and one can only imagine how much better these robots will be a decade from now.  With much of our job growth recently in low wage industries that are labor intensive (think restaurants, bars, etc) anything that hurts that has a lot of societal implications in the long run.  Already many in the bottom 60% have made no progress from where they were (inflation adjusted) since the late 70s.  Here is one specific story on lettuce pickers.  Yes this is not a job most Americans do as it has been 'farmed out' (pun intended) but multiply this type of story over multiple industries and millions of jobs in the future and the scale of it is what is scary.  Not sure what all these people displaced out of this work are going to do.
Via AP:
  • On a windy morning in California's Salinas Valley, a tractor pulled a wheeled, metal contraption over rows of budding iceberg lettuce plants. Engineers from Silicon Valley tinkered with the software on a laptop to ensure the machine was eliminating the right leafy buds.  The engineers were testing the Lettuce Bot, a machine that can "thin" a field of lettuce in the time it takes about 20 workers to do the job by hand.
  • The thinner is part of a new generation of machines that target the last frontier of agricultural mechanization — fruits and vegetables destined for the fresh market, not processing, which have thus far resisted mechanization because they're sensitive to bruising.
  • Researchers are now designing robots for these most delicate crops by integrating advanced sensors, powerful computing, electronics, computer vision, robotic hardware and algorithms, as well as networking and high precision GPS localization technologies. Most ag robots won't be commercially available for at least a few years....MORE
Here are the crop thinning Lettuce Bots:

See also:
It's All Coming Together: The $210,000 Cow Miking Robot (can the dream of plowborgs be far behind?)
Dear Monsanto: "Weed Control Using Laser" (and robots) MON
Robo-farming: "A North Dakota Man Reinvents the Tractor: Autonomous Tractor Corporation’s 'Spirit'"