Enrique Dans
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Enrique Dans

IMAGE: EcoRobotix

Robots down on the farm

An interesting article in MIT Technology Review, “Weed-killing robots are threatening giant chemical companies’ business models”, highlights the concern of the large chemical companies about the foreseeable decrease in the use of herbicides, thanks to the appearance of relatively simple robots capable of moving through fields, locating weeds by means of computer vision algorithms and administering herbicides in a localized manner, exclusively on the plant to be eliminated, with the concomitant savings and protection of the environment.

The use of these robots reminds me of a much smaller project I saw some time ago and that I loved, called FarmBot: an adorable and relatively easy to assemble machine managed by a €30 Raspberry Pi computer that applies coordinates to a small piece of land that is then administered by a head with interchangeable elements that manages the amount of water for each plant and also destroys weeds by hitting and burying them, without the use of herbicides. A beautiful project for smaller farms that illustrates the possibilities of robotization in environments where there has been a revolution in the use of technology to boost productivity and performance.

Solar-powered machines are now able to operate in fields, carrying out a relatively routine work such as dealing with pests and weeds: not only saving back-breaking work, but doing so more efficiently.

Needless to say, manufacturers of agricultural machinery with an eye to the future, such as John Deere, are now buying companies that have pioneered the application of machine learning to this environment. At the same time, there has been some controversy over their use of software ownership as they use technology to fully or partially automate the use of their machinery.

All this is set to have a huge impact on productivity in a sector we mistakenly think of as somehow traditional and immune to change.

(En español, aquí)

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Enrique Dans

Enrique Dans

Professor of Innovation at IE Business School and blogger at enriquedans.com