Robotics on farm may reduce challenges of labor, weather
By T.J. BURNHAM
If you don’t think there are robots on your farm, think again.
That new pickup you ride in is already outfitted with the potential to operate without you driving.
That’s because vehicle manufacturers have gotten ahead of themselves on the concept of unpiloted cars and trucks, and want to be ready when the government maps out highways where steering is automatic.
Look for multiple UPS trucks going down the road with a drive only in the lead rig, robotically controlling the rest of the trucks, he predicted.
So notes Mel Torrie, founder of Autonomous Solutions Inc. He came from Utah to tell the Precision Farming Expo in McMinnville, Ore., this spring about the robotics developed by his Utah firm for John Deere, the U.S. Department of Energy and the U.S. Department of Defense.
“Robotics, whether you realize it or not, are happening all around us,” he said. “Our goal is to eliminate all of the mind-numbing jobs in agriculture like spraying and haying.”
Unlike auto-piloted farm machinery, which drives down the row, and then the farmer takes over to drive it to another lane, robotics take you out of the cab, he said.
• Robots now used in mining offer options for agriculture.
• Remote-control units can help with traceability effort.
• Most farmers have robotics ready to go in their pickup.
“You control things from another place by remote,” explained Torrie.
What robotics will help farmers do, he added, is become more predictive in their chores, enabling them to perform tasks like timing harvest of fields more accurately.
His company has already introduced robotics to massive dump trucks in mining operations, a technology he feels is easily adapted to farm equipment. The lines of trucks are robotically controlled by one driver who provides information from his lead vehicle to the unmanned trucks attached by a shoestring-thick device for sending signals.
Farm equipment without cabs is part of the future. “There will be no human visibility problem,” said Torrie.
All those cab comfort elements like air conditioning and dust-free environments will no longer have to be a consideration for manufacturers. As a result of cab-less machines, more space will be available for larger fuel tanks, making long work runs more possible.
“Robots will operate the machines no matter what the weather or the dust problem is,” he added. And robotics can save the farmer money, said Torrie, since workers operating equipment like spray rigs tend to slow down at the end of a day.
“Not a problem with robotics,” he said. Many of Torrie’s units operate on three separate frequencies in order to overcome any problems encountered in signals while working.
Robotics also can help growers provide traceability information, which has become important to the market today, he noted, as cameras on robot rigs in vineyards, for example, record what is happening in the crop.
While robot farm machinery looms on the horizon of tomorrow’s agriculture, some challenges may come up, said Torrie.
“In our mining trucks, we have seen sabotage suspected to be done by people concerned with their jobs,” he reported.
“The real issue for agriculture is worker shortages, so this may not become an issue farmers will face.”
EYE in sky: Remote-control cameras like this one attached to a drone can take photos over fields, orchards, vineyards or pastures. Growers can then use the images to make farm management decisions and to document their transparency records.
This article published in the June, 2014 edition of WESTERN FARMER-STOCKMAN.
All rights reserved. Copyright Farm Progress Cos. 2014.