ORLANDO, Fla. -- In 2014 robots have begun to supplement our already automated agriculture industry with a target of feeding the 9 billion people predicted to populate the Earth by 2050. Not only will agricultural output need to double to feed all those people, but productivity must increase by 25%, according to The Robot Report author Frank Tobe.
"In 2014, robots have begun in earnest to supplement the already automated agriculture industry," Tobe told EE Times. "By 2020 many farming tasks will be performed with autonomous robotic devices."
According to Tobe, robots are enabling farmers to jump over the slow incremental progress of farming automation, going directly to fully automating most aspects of agricultural chores -- from grafting, to planting, to harvesting, to sorting, to packaging and boxing. In addition, drones are being used to pinpoint where crops need fertilizer or spraying, and in some cases actually doing the job themselves.
[Farmer Robbie: Robot farmers in the field, see how they network at ESC Minneapolis.]
To get a full picture of the agricultural impact of robots in 2014 (besides automatic cow milkers, which were excluded), Tobe surveyed 60 agricultural robot makers and got 27 responses to his questionnaire. (You will notice the absence of John Deere and other big names. These are public companies that are not permitted to answer some of the questions on the survey, and thus did not respond.) This slideshow illustrates the breadth of agricultural automation and how robots are filling in the last niches of automation needed to feed the masses of the future. (Many of the robots shown are still in testing, but slated to be released commercially in 2015-2016.)
Click on the following robot image to start the slideshow: Note, slideshow opens in a new tab in your browser.
"BoniRob" is a lightweight field robot from Amazone being developed by Amazone-Werke Gmbh, of Hasbergen, Germany, with Robert Bosch GmbH. BoniRob is lightweight field robot capable of working in swarms with others like it for weeding, applying fertilizer, and other ag tasks.
— R. Colin Johnson, Advanced Technology Editor, EE Times