Wednesday, September 28, 2011

Endless Innovation

When Robots Run Our Nation's Farms | Endless Innovation | Big Think

I do not post this as an alarm but to inform. The world will change.
And yet I will continue to grow my garden by hand.
The danger lies in allowing Government to regulate what we do for pleasure.

When Robots

A new generation of robot drones is revolutionizing

the way we farm in America, with Kinze Manufacturing and

Jaybridge Robotics recently announcing the first-ever

robot drone tractor capable of farming without the need

for a human operator. Video clips are already circulating online

of the Kinze tractor, gracefully coordinating its harvest

dance with other autonomous machines. Once this robot

drone tractor becomes part of the agricultural mainstream,

robots will decide where to plant, when to harvest and

how to choose the best route for crisscrossing the farmland.

Humans, except perhaps as neutral trouble-shooters, will be

all but unneeded. So what does it mean when robots

run our nation’s farms?

As Ian Berry of the Wall Street Journal points out, farmers

in America's heartland are embracing these robot drones

for their ability to dramatically increase the efficiency and

productivity of any farming venture. The robotic tractors

and robotic harvesters are just the latest "autonomous"

innovations that are changing the face of farming.

Farmers already rely heavily on smartphones,

RFID-embedded pallets, and precise, satellite-guided

systems -- and that’s even more true for giant agricultural

ventures, where knowing when and where to plant can lead

to significant improvements in total crop yield.

As the USA Today suggests, it's best to think of these

new robotic farming machines the same way we think

of Roomba for vacuums -- but with more at stake for

everyday Americans.

The flip side of increasingly efficient robotic farming is

that we risk becoming further disassociated from our food.

The whole point of the locavore movement, right, was to

bring us closer in touch with local food and its provenance?

The whole point of the organic movement was to make our

food somehow more "natural." In an era where each of us

wants to know exactly where our "line-caught" fish and

"pasture-raised" beef came from, are we really going to

settle for the answer: “Robot Drone #42?”

If no pesticides were used, no growth hormones used,

is it still OK to refer to the food as “organic," even if it’s

been harvested by a robot?

The good news is that the relentless automation of farming

does not need to come at the exclusion of the organic farming

movement. There are numerous examples of small farming

collectives embracing the new technologies.

The growBot Garden project, coordinated with the support

of Georgia Tech and Atlanta's independent food community,

for example, has helped to push the boundaries of how we

think about robotic farming and sensors for organic farming.

The leaders of the growBot Garden project, in fact, have

emphasized that organic farming does not need to be

anti-technology. Robots do not necessarily mean less

nutritious food.

At a time when there is a relentless trend toward the automation

of agriculture, it’s clear that robotic innovations can help farmers

to yield more food from the land. They will change the way we eat,

and how we think about food. It’s always been a truism that a

nation that can feed itself has less of a food security risk than a

nation that can not. (Even if the farm robots are foreign-built

robots – like those from the Dutch company Case IH)

The idea of the American breadbasket being controlled by

robots may once have seemed like science fiction:

giant hover crafts, predator bots to devour pest organisms

and metallic robo-workers. That vision assumed that

corporate agribusiness interests would run the whole show.

However, is it possible that these robots instead can equally

serve the interests of local, small-scale agriculture?

Automation can work to the advantage of the local project.

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