Rebecca Paul

Scientist Developing Next-Gen Robots to Harvest and Protect Crops

by , 04/14/11
filed under: Gardening

Yael Edan, Ben-Gurion University, intelligent sensing systems, robot farmers, robot farms, robots for farming, farming robots, sustainable design, green design, sustainable agriculture

Scientists in Israel and Europe are working to develop highly intelligent, agricultural robots that could potentially benefit farmers and workers while helping to feed our ever-growing population. By employing several concepts, such as advanced algorithms and high-tech cameras and sensors, the engineers are developing robots with “brains” that can learn and improve from mistakes made while farming.

Yael Edan, an engineer and robotics researcher at Ben-Gurion University, said that one of their biggest challenges is addressing the robots’ ability to identify individual fruits or vegetables. Produce in its organic nature will vary in size, shape and color. It will also appear differently depending on light conditions, the time of day, and other environmental factors. Part of their solution to this problem includes the use of multi-spectral cameras to analyze wavelengths of light that bounce off objects, aiding in the robots’ ability to recognize consistent visual patterns (meaning they can identify specific fruits weather they’re upside down or right side up). They’re also working with algorithms for seeing simple shapes — when food is covered by a leaf or branch, the robot will know to switch out of the “full shape” mode and instead attempt to complete the contour of the partial shape it’s seeing.

The potential benefits of employing autonomous agricultural robots include protecting human workers from the harmful effects of chemicals and reducing a farm’s need for pesticides by up to 80%. The robots would also give farmers instant access to labor during the short periods of time when harvesting crops is the only concern. Quoted from Emily Sohn‘s Discovery News article “Robots on the Farm“, Bernie Engel an agricultural engineer at Purdue University, explains “In many cases, there are challenges finding labor to do some of the harvesting of strawberries and other fruits and vegetables. It’s hard work. There’s a timeliness factor, where you can’t wait a week. You need lots of labor for fairly short periods of time, which creates real challenges for keeping people employed in a sustainable manner. If you think about the global population at this point and the need to feed a growing population,” he added, “we have to get more efficient at the harvesting and production of these crops.

Via Treehugger

Photo © Joe Nicora

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4 Comments

  1. Usr31338 April 23, 2011 at 4:38 pm

    pete2403, you are always free to do it for pleasure if you want, but globally there’s a lot of people who have to do that for survival. And for them saving time is not lazyness, it’s opportunity to learn and produce knowledge that you can’t do if you need to do what a robot can do. As hackers say, no work should be done twice. This is an opportunity for millions of people not to have a connection with earth they don’t want; the way to get off the ground and go to other frontiers e. g. sea and space. Earth is not a destiny.

  2. actually392 April 20, 2011 at 5:52 pm

    Citing a source for this bald assertion would be helpful, though I would imagine even this is too labor intensive for a self-described “lazyreader”.

    The labor intensity of growing food is the one reason people will have jobs in the 21st Century. The “first” world is going to become very much acquainted with manual farming first-hand.

  3. lazyreader April 15, 2011 at 7:56 am

    We all know organic farming is to labor intensive. Robots that monitor conditions offer reduction in man hours which is one of the main drivers in food cost.

  4. pete2403 April 14, 2011 at 4:32 pm

    To be honest they’re looking at this backwards…

    1) its satisfying to plant and grow your own food
    2) a more natural permaculture approach is in the long term better for both the earth and indeed, the person eating…reduction in chemical use / fertile soil etc…
    3) who in their right minds would want to completely disconnect from the earth and the garden in this way…
    4)the more robots(or anyone for that matter) does stuff for you…the more ignorant you become…

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