Agriculture is one of the most interesting industries when it comes to robotics.
On the one hand, there are strong reasons to choose automation for agriculture:
- It’s more and more difficult, at least in the United States, to find human beings willing to work in agriculture. Family farms are having trouble keeping the younger generation in the business, and labor shortages plague agriculture. Robots could take the place of the scarce farm workers.
- Margins have always been small for farmers, but tariffs, immigration crackdowns, and rising labor costs are making times very tough down on the farm. Automation’s cost savings could make a big difference.
- Safety is a concern, as well. Working in proximity to agricultural chemicals, outdoors in all weathers, and in uncomfortable and physically taxing positions won’t bother robots. They also don’t have to worry about animal disease vectors.
On the other hand, there are some real barriers to effective automation in agriculture:
- Robots aren’t great with varied and unpredictable environments. That includes apples which are all slightly different from one another or crops which straggle out of their rows a bit.
- They’re also not good at moving around. Not only do they fall down, but they run out of juice quickly and can’t easily carry a power pack along with them.
- Many of the tasks involved in farming require flexibility and can’t be standardized. A robot that can pick cherries can’t be easily adapted to pick lettuce instead. This keeps the cost of agricultural automation high.
The new generation of agribots
In some areas of agriculture, successful robots have been developed. Milking and feeding cows, for example, can be easily automated by any farmer who can cover the upfront costs. Machine learning is making small-scale robotics practical for tasks like weeding and planting. Next generation agribots can identify plants that need water or fertilizer, analyze soil, and do other smart jobs.
With AI advances, farmers will be able to reduce their use of chemicals by as much as 90%. They may also be able to sleep in while the robots milk those cows. And agribots, unlike way cool futuristic homeland industrial robots, are actually getting to the marketplace.
Agriculture may simply be a field in which the need for automation is great enough to overcome the obstacles.
In the meantime, call us first when you need service or support for your Rexroth motion control systems. We’re specialists, with decades of experience.