Fast Company

Is Our Future Filled With Robotic Farmers Tending to Sensor-Equipped Vegetables?


Farming is time-intensive, back-breaking, tiring work--so why not leave it to the robots? A group of MIT students are doing just that with a cluster of tomato plants placed on artificial turf.

The students' "precision agriculture" system has 2 components: a device that allows each plant to broadcast its physical state, and a robot outfitted with an arm that dispenses water and nutrients, pollinates the plants, and even picks tomatoes when they're ripe. The plants can also request water when they are thirsty, and can ask for nutrients when they need food.

Small grains and hay are already harvested in a partially-mechanized process, but the MIT system is a first for fruits and vegetables. Eventually, the MIT-ers hope to develop an automated greenhouse with robots, pots, and plants that all talk to one another.

To be sure, the robotic system will be celebrated by fruit and vegetable suppliers, but it will spell bad news for farm workers. It's not hard to imagine the day that hand-picked veggies will be a specialty item.

[Via MIT]

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  • calvin mcmillian

    maybe one of these days, a lot later than sooner. lots of other processes that are a lot more important by any measure such as dollars and cents and much more amenable to automation are still not automated because it costs to much -for now at least.this kind of thing moves from the labotatory to the plant floor much more slowly than most people realize, and a manufacturing plant is usually roofed, heated, and wired for electricity down to the square meter.furthermore, the materials used(being processed) are usually uniform, and the equipment can be run more or less continiously which is one of the biggest keys to making the investment pay off. Greenhouse vegetables cost a hell of a lot more to grow than field raised except out of season, and greenhouses are pretty crowded places with very little room not occupied by the plants themselves.I expect that high level greenhouse automation is a long way off,unless the genetic engineers come up with some truly mindboggling breakthroughs that change the characteristics of the plants to the point that a farmer would have to be told what he is looking at.but the research is by all means a good thing, because it may provide the solution to some other problem.