Robot agronomists from the UK have grown and harvested the entire crop using automation
A group of scientists and students from Adams University (Shropshire, United Kingdom) in October last year decided to use the latest achievements of robotics in agriculture. Of course, and without them, there are many solutions for automating plant cultivation and animal rearing. But the researchers wanted to try to completely exclude human participation in field work. The remote operator only observes what is happening and from time to time introduces certain adjustments into the system, if necessary.
The project would not have been possible without the support of the state, which provided 200 thousand pounds (over $ 260 thousand). Using these tools, scientists and engineers equipped the tractor and combine with cameras, laser sensors and GPS sensors. In addition, various drones and a reconnaissance robot were used. These systems monitored the work of agricultural machinery and directed their "brothers" exactly where they were needed.
By the way, the area of the field on which work was carried out using modified equipment was only one hectare. But this is only the first stage of the project, scientists needed to make sure that everything was going according to plan, so the size of the site was chosen so that the equipment could be easily controlled. In the future, the project can be scaled and begin work on a much larger plot of land.
Researchers decided to use small-sized agricultural machinery in their project. According to project manager Keith Franklin, now farmers are working with huge devices that are very effective. But this effectiveness has a downside. The fact is that such large and heavy mechanisms damage the soil in the fields and everything that grows there. At first, this is imperceptible, but over time, agricultural work involving these giants leads to soil degradation and, accordingly, crops begin to produce much less yield than before.
The project itself provides for a full cycle of agricultural work without human intervention. This is not only about harvesting, but also about cultivating the soil, planting plants, caring for them and getting the crop as a result of all these works.
Despite the fact that the project was recognized as successful, there were some problems. For example, at the very beginning of work, in the spring, the tractor could not independently maintain a straight line when sowing plants. The series were not too smooth, but not terribly crooked, so in general the result can be considered acceptable. In addition, when using a tractor to spray the field with herbicides and fungicides as a vehicle for the entire nozzle system, he did not have time to move around the field as intended, processing crops evenly. Therefore, some areas were sprayed too intensively, while some remained completely unprocessed. As a result, the latter did not receive the required amount of fungicides and herbicides, which led to the appearance of plants and fungi that affect crops.
According to the statement of the operator, who tracked the movement of mechanisms, directing them to the right places on the field, it turned out to be more difficult to control the equipment looking at the computer screen than to perform the same operation while on the field.
The authors of the project are surethat in the future only robotic systems will be in the fields, with a few exceptions. Autopilots are used not only on the roads, but also in agriculture. Moreover, it is more difficult to automate the processes of moving devices. On the highway and city road there are computer-friendly signs, markings. In the fields and undercoats there is nothing like this, but there are many obstacles awaiting the robot in its path. How to remove these obstacles and solve the problem of automatic cultivation of fields and work on farms is a question that needs to be solved in the near future. The population of the planet is increasing, and the number of land suitable for agriculture - on the contrary, is decreasing. Therefore, the only way to avoid hunger is to get more and more crops per unit area. And robots can help a person in this.
So far, all this is too expensive a pleasure for an ordinary farmer to use this kind of technology. According to the developers, the crop was one of the most expensive in the history of agriculture. But they do not worry about this, because the project is just a test, and as technology improves and processes are streamlined, the cost of work will decrease, and very significantly.
As for jobs that people in agriculture can lose, the developers claim that there will be no special problems. Firstly, the process of replacing people with robots is a matter of more than one year, and possibly not one decade. Secondly, people will not lose their jobs, but only change their occupation. For example, instead of a tractor driver, there will be a profession “managing agricultural robots” or “land reclamation analyst”.
Be that as it may, the processes of automation and robotization are occurring everywhere, so changes are hardly worth resisting. But, since the changes are not at the fastest pace, you can adapt to them.