Cutting Edge Tech: Agricultural Robots

Robots have been used in the industrial world since 1937 when a crane like device built by “Bill” Griffith P. Taylor was used to stack blocks in pre-programmed patterns directed by punch cards. Since then, the use has grown immensely by assisting manufacturing, healthcare, transportation and even agriculture. That’s right, even farmers have turned to robots for help.

What Are Agricultural Robots?

While they haven’t been around as long as robots in some of the other industries, agricultural robotics is a growing market. According to ResearchMoz, the agricultural robot market was $817 million in 2013 but it is expected to reach $16.3 billion by the year 2020.

And while many look to robotics as simply a way to save labor costs, they actually help keep workers safe by limiting human exposure to some of the more dangerous jobs such as applying pesticides through crop dusters; which has the 3rd highest mortality rate among US professions.

However, one of the more interesting problems that these robots help solve is the problem associated with lower pollination rates due to colony collapse disorder (CCD). CCD occurs when entire colonies of honeybees disappear, which causes shortages of crops. Crops rely on honeybees to pollinate. In order to compensate, farmers must rent out colonies of bees which increase costs up to 20%. But researchers at Harvard have found a way to solve this problem by creating robotic “bees”, named the RoboBee, that are used to aid in pollination.

What Exactly Are Agricultural Robotics Used For?

So you might be wondering just what do these mechanical farmhands do? Actually, they do just about everything a human farm worker can, including:

  • Harvesting fruits and vegetables
  • Driving tractors and other machines
  • Shearing sheep
  • Milking cows
  • Washing livestock
  • Herding livestock
  • Pruning trees and vines
  • Weeding fields

However, not all farms and ranches find value in mechanical assistance. Smaller farms and organic growers have not seen as much value in agricultural robotics. Since crop yields are smaller they may not see the same return on investment from purchasing expensive robots. And since organic farms are not using chemical fertilizers or pesticides there are no safety issues from over exposure to these substances.

Large farms, however, have definitely seen benefits that come by way of cost savings, improved safety and increased crop yields from employing robots. So much benefit is seen that just about every large farm reaps the benefits by automating at least some of the tasks once handled by human labor.

Safety and Security Issues to Consider

While the safety of farm workers is one of the benefits of agricultural robots, these tools aren’t 100% safe. A robot running amok like they would in a science fiction movie isn’t a likely scenario but they are still mechanical tools that require precise calibration and regular maintenance to ensure they are working properly. Failure to keep up on their maintenance could result in breakdowns and malfunctions. These instances could be disastrous for anyone who is still working in the fields when a large robot malfunctions.

Like other technological advances, agricultural robots show a great deal of promise in helping farmers grow their business and increase food supplies around the world. Of course, there are concerns that these machines will replace jobs which were once done by human beings. However, it’s a trade off that many farmers are willing to make.