DailyDirt: Robots For Farming

Robots are perfect for tedious and boring tasks, and they seem to be well-suited for the repetitive labor of farming. More and more robots are getting into the farming industry, with the potential to displace a lot of human labor. It might take some time before robots are growing a significant portion of our food supply, but farming technology could solve a lot of problems (and create a few more labor problems as well). Here are just a few more farming robots that might take over our farms.

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Companies: blue river technology, hortiplan

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Comments on “DailyDirt: Robots For Farming”

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19 Comments
PopeRatzo (profile) says:

Peak labor

The people who lead our biggest economies are just not ready for what’s going to happen when we just don’t need to have everyone working in order to provide for the goods and services that we need and want. Here in the US, instead of adjusting to a lower workforce participation rate, we’ve spent the past 50 years, a period of greater automation AND far greater worker productivity INCREASING the workforce participation rate. Instead of looking at the benefits to be had from having people working less, we have corporations trying to get their workers to do more.

On top of that, we have this superstitious Calvinist notion that “everybody has to work” or they are useless. That somehow, working all the time is a good thing – even that God wants us to work all the time (idle hands…).

At least some of the more sophisticated economies in Northern Europe have figured out job sharing.

What happens when we reach “peak labor”? What happens to people put out of work due to automation? We just don’t need everyone to start their own business. Not everyone can or should be, an entrepreneur. How many maids and baristas do we really need? And are we willing to pay even the lowliest job a wage sufficient for survival (currently, we are not and we are fighting over whether to even have a minimum wage)?

And finally, how long can we sustain an increasing consolidation of wealth in the hands of fewer and fewer, especially considering that just may not need everyone to be working – or certainly not working so goddamn hard?

Andrew D. Todd (user link) says:

Electronic Immigration

Once a physical job has been reduced to an information job, the information job can be outsourced in real time. For example, consider the lettuce-weeding machine. It has a physical method– an overdose of fertilizer, squirted at specified coordinates; a camera; and a machine-vision program to distinguish between lettuces and weeds.

Suppose that before being used, the machine-vision program’s output were overlaid on the camera image (say a red circle for a weed, a blue one for a lettuce, and a yellow circle for a borderline case). This image would be sent to Bangladesh, to a remote village where there are very few sources of employment, and five or ten dollars a day is a good wage. There, a Bangladeshi farm-worker, who does not need to speak English or even to be literate, would sit in front of a screen, and clicks on the various circles with his mouse, correcting them, before they got squirted with fertilizer or not. The machine-vision system would be dynamically reprogrammed by the Bangladeshi farm-worker’s choices, rather than being expensively reprogrammed by American computer scientists. This is important, because in different places, and at different seasons, there are different kinds of weeds. The Bangladeshi would adapt to new conditions, and the machine would adapt with him.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Electronic Immigration

basically your describing a machine with an operator, no different than a combine harvester.

You don’t need a mechanical engineer to drive a combine, nor do you need a computer scientist to operate an automatic weeder.

Machines and robots are and have been used in farming for almost as long as farming itself.

PopeRatzo (profile) says:

reductio ad absurdum ad absurdum

I hope you don’t believe that when physical jobs are “reduced” to information jobs, that there is anything like a one-to-one relationship between the number of jobs before reduction and the number after.

Nor is there a one-to-one relationship in the wages.

What you say does not address my concerns about peak labor and the fallacy of “full employment”.

Andrew D. Todd (user link) says:

Re: Retirement Age, to: PopeRatzo, #5, Jul 13th, 2013 @ 4:40am

Well, as I see it, a practical measure in the short run is going to be something like lowering the retirement age, tweaking Social Security, Medicare, and Disability Insurance, and by doing so, mopping up some unemployment. Of course, organizing the change will require some financial legerdemain, but that is another story. The automobile industry tried to do this, twenty and thirty years ago, but, without access to government funding, they eventually went broke, trying to run their own welfare state. There was a kind of earlier analogy. Circa 1929-30, General Electric tried to run its own “new deal,” but it ran out of money, and had to give up, and wait for Franklin Delano Roosevelt to be voted into office. Lowering the retirement age is a comparatively good solution, because it does not involve making people think about work in new ways.

As it is, you’re trying to put the clock back. To take the example of salad greens, LED gro-lamps have reached the point where they are competitive with the sun, at least for vegetable growing. Combine those with a small hydroponic unit, with robots, and you can put the system in the basement where it stays reasonably warm, even in a cold winter. The commercial growers have to compete with a home system of this kind. The high-end customers, the ones who are fussiest about pesticides and so on, will be the first to buy their own hydroponic greenhouses. If you can’t prevent the ultimate customers from producing their own, you are in no position to impose requirements on a commercial producer.

PopeRatzo (profile) says:

requires political change

I don’t see the US (or most EU countries) lowering the retirement age any time soon, considering the prevalent political view at the moment (at least among elites) is to RAISE the retirement age.

That’s my concern. In view of high unemployment, greater income disparity, etc, these countries are doing everything they can to make those problems worse.

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