What comes to mind when you think of robot farming? I'm guessing you envision an even more automated version of our current industrialized farming process, full of hover tractors, harvester behemoths and specially designed predabots that gobble down every pest organism. But does the future of robotic farming have to be so bleak and Matrixy?
This vision of our farming future played a central role in the old Epcot "Horizons" ride (see the video in this post). But just as the Disney attraction was swallowed up by a Florida sinkhole, so too are modern sensibilities tearing down the idea of the robot super farm.
With increased focus on smaller farms, slow food and organic cultivation methods, it was only a matter of time till the robots shook hands with hippies and got serious about growing some arugula.
Enter the GrowBot: A partnership between the Georgia Institute of Technology and Atlanta's independent food community, rogueApron, GrowBot explores the robotic possibilities for local organic farming. According to founder Lady Rogue, there's a misconception that organic farming is inherently anti-technology. You know what she means: bike-riding, sun tea-drinking treehuggers who prefer actual dirt to an episode of "Dirty Jobs." She lays it all out for us in the following quote:
After all, you can incorporate technology without going full-blown industrial. Obviously that's the case with hoes and rakes, and you wouldn't criticize an organic farm for using solar technology, would you? The GrowBot Project is all about inviting robots to the part as well. One more quote:
To pull this off, the GrowBot Project aims to get robotics specialists and local, organic farmers in the same room, but it also means creating imagined visions of a future that encourage the possibilities. Epcot's "Horizons" got people excited about robotic industrialized farming. Any number of giant robot cartoons got Japanese scientists excited about populating the world with droids. This is more of the same: Imagine a better future based on obtainable technology and, in doing so, plant the seeds for a better tomorrow.
Sort of like Stephen King's inclusion of Andy the Messenger Robot in "The Dark Tower V: Wolves of the Calla," who I seem to recall helped out with the farming... and turned out to be a traitor serving the Crimson King. Oh snap. Bad example.
A good, real-world example would be India's need for coconut-picking robots. The demand for coconuts continues to rise, while the number of big-handed folks willing to earn a living climbing the trees dwindles. The younger generations just aren't interested in that line of work, but they'd probably be cool piloting a remote control climbing robot with saws for hands. Enter the Hanumanoid Coconut Harvester, a project under way from developers TK Velayudhan. According to India's Economic Times, the bot could prove the most mass-produced in any sector. For now, the funding is still coming together.
The GrowBot Symposium should be starting up in the next few months. First, they'll brainstorm with farmers, then they'll bring in the engineers for further discussion. You can read all about it at the official Web site.