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Thursday, March 21, 2013

Robots replace migrant workers and save U.S. famers

Credit: NREC/CMU
According to the new, updated Roadmap for U.S. Robotics 2013, new robot applications for crop spraying, harvesting, and picking offer the promise of reduced costs, increased safety, greater yields, increased operational flexibility, including nighttime operations, and reduced use of chemicals.

Robotic farms of the future

The the world’s largest robotics research and development organization, the National Robotics Engineering Center (NREC), an operating unit within Carnegie Mellon University’s Robotics Institute (RI), is envisioning and developing new concepts for robotic farms for the future.
In the fully-automated Farm of the Future, dedicated robots will take on the tough farming jobs that once could be done only by people. Farmers will supervise robots in their daily tasks, but won’t need to directly operate them. In more than 20 years NREC has demonstrated autonomous agricultural equipment for field and specialty crop applications. Recent work with strawberry sorters, and the USDA Specialty Crop Research Initiative support the development of advanced harvesting and manipulation, crop sorting with machine vision, and disease detection and monitoring.

Robots can replace migrant workers

According to NREC the U.S. ornamental horticulture is an $11 billion dollar a year industry tied to a dwindling migrant work force. Unskilled seasonal labor is becoming more costly and harder to find, but it is still needed several times a year to move potted plants to and from fields and sheds.
Autonomous and semi-autonomous robotic systems for moving containerized plants to and from the field can handled the task of picking up, moving, and setting down multiple containers at the same time.  The NREC prototype and field tested systems were designed to handle 35,000 containers per 8-hour day with one or two operators. This reduces the horticulture industry's reliance on manual labor, increases nursery productivity, improves field safety, and reduces plant handling costs.

Robots can save American family farmers

NREC believes that applying the power of robotics to completely automate common farming tasks will help American family farmers to significantly lower their operating costs, reduce their need for labor, and increase their efficiency and yields. It will allow American agriculture to remain competitive worldwide. It will enable small farms (like most of Pennsylvania’s farms) to compete globally. It will also help farmers to satisfy the growing demand for locally-produced food. This can mean the difference between a viable family farm and yet another subdivision.

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