Robotic farms of the futureThe 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 workersAccording 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.