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What effect do you think a robotic crop picker than can beat a human crop picker on price will have upon California?

Will this affect politics and, if so, how?

(source)

March of the Lettuce Bot

Robotics: A machine that helps lettuce farmers is just one of several robots intended to automate aspects of agriculture and horticulture

Salad days for Lettuce Bot

LETTUCE is California’s main vegetable crop. The state grew $1.6 billion-worth of the leafy plant in 2010 and accounts for more than 70% of all lettuce grown in America—itself the world’s second-biggest exporter of the stuff. It is a fiddly business. As well as having to be fertilised and weeded, lettuce must also be “thinned” so that good plants do not grow too close to each other, inhibiting growth. Much of this is still done by hand. Labourers, who tend to be paid per acre, not per hour, have little incentive to pay close attention to what they pull from the ground, often leading to unnecessary waste.

Enter Lettuce Bot, the brainchild of two Stanford-trained engineers, Jorge Heraud and Lee Redden. Their diligent robotic labourer, pulled behind a tractor, starts by taking pictures of passing plants. Computer-vision algorithms devised by Mr Redden compare these to a database of more than a million images, taken from different angles against different backdrops of soil and other plants, that he and Mr Heraud have amassed from their visits to lettuce farms. A simple shield blocks out the Californian sun to prevent odd shading from confounding the software.

When a plant is identified as a weed—or as a lettuce head that is growing too close to another one—a nozzle at the back of the unit squirts out a concentrated dose of fertiliser. This sounds bonkers, but it turns out that fertiliser can be as deadly as a pesticide, which is why farmers usually sprinkle it at a safe distance of 10-15cm from the plants to be nourished, so as to dilute its effect. So the robot not only kills weeds and excess heads, but feeds the remaining crops at the same time.

The battery-powered system crunches the images fast enough to work at 98% accuracy while chugging along at a bit less than 2kph. In September Blue River Technology, a start-up founded by Mr Heraud and Mr Redden, raised $3m from Khosla Ventures, a venture-capital firm. The launch of a commercial version of the robot is planned for next year. Mr Heraud is coy about Lettuce Bot’s cost, but says it will be competitive with manual labour.

Its creators are also working on a machine capable of excising weeds mechanically using a rotating blade. Indeed, the robot was originally conceived as an automated lawnmower for parks and other public places but legal issues—think spinning metal blades in areas frequented by children—prompted Mr Heraud and Mr Redden to turn to agricultural users instead. That would make it a boon to California’s organic farmers, who eschew the potent, weed-killing fertiliser. Next in Mr Heraud’s and Mr Redden’s sights is corn (maize), America’s biggest crop. Teaching the robot to deal with plants like tomatoes, where distinguishing weeds from the crop can be hard even for humans, will take longer.

Lettuce Bot is just one of many robots intended to automate aspects of agriculture and horticulture that are still highly labour-intensive, even in the rich world. The Vineland Research and Innovation Centre in Ontario is working on one robot to plant tulip bulbs and replant seedlings, another to harvest, trim and package mushrooms and a third to package potted plants. And the Harvest Vehicle HV-100, otherwise known as Harvey, built by Harvest Automation, a firm based in Massachusetts, is designed to move potted shrubs and trees around in plant nurseries. Where these machines lead, other green-fingered robots may follow.

by on Dec. 4, 2012 at 9:48 AM
Replies (41-48):
batmansgirl
by Bronze Member on Dec. 4, 2012 at 2:40 PM
It will squelch the argument that we need illegal aliens to do that job that Americans wont do.
Posted on CafeMom Mobile
purplerobin
by on Dec. 4, 2012 at 4:21 PM


Quoting batmansgirl:

It will squelch the argument that we need illegal aliens to do that job that Americans wont do.

My rebuttal to that argument is make the prisoners do those jobs for free.

pamelax3
by Gold Member on Dec. 4, 2012 at 4:33 PM

It was just a matter of time until some of the farming jobs would have technology to help cut cost

krysstizzle
by on Dec. 4, 2012 at 4:38 PM

Amazing things are happening in Detroit, too. 

 

Quoting MorganTho:

I disagree. If all of the empty and abandoned lots and warehouses were utilized as greenhouses and community gardens you can make a lot of food. Look up Growing Power Milwaukee.

Quoting erika9009:

The future???

Organic..................yes

Sustainable...........Yes

Urban Farming.......No

There simply is not enough area, sunlight, and volume to do farming in an urban setting.

To keep organic farming, you have to buy organic now.

Sustainable farms is just a self preservation act.  So, I think this is in everyone best interests.


Quoting MorganTho:

I think that organic/sustainable/urban farming is the future.



Quoting Sisteract:

It sounded ok until they discussed the application of poison-

I live in an area on the perimeter of ag country on the central coast of CA- where most of the lettuce is grown. Organic farming is huge in my town-

Quoting MorganTho:

It seemed neat until I read all the Wyoming through. Gross. Massive amounts of chemical fertilizer to thin the weeds. Where does this fertilizer go? It runs off and goes into the ground water and streams, ponds etc.




krysstizzle
by on Dec. 4, 2012 at 4:39 PM

We had Rufina Juarez (a woman involved in running the south central garden) speak here at a couple of different events. Pretty amazing story.

Quoting MorganTho:

Did you hear about the community garden in the middle of south-central? They had a documentary on it on Netflix.

Quoting erika9009:

Well, maybe your area is better suited for that.  Here in CA, there are not many abandon lots or warehouses.  So, that might work for areas that don't have farming near by. 

In someways you are correct.  If there is a need, someone will find a way to do it.



Quoting MorganTho:

I disagree. If all of the empty and abandoned lots and warehouses were utilized as greenhouses and community gardens you can make a lot of food. Look up Growing Power Milwaukee.



Quoting erika9009:

The future???

Organic..................yes

Sustainable...........Yes

Urban Farming.......No

There simply is not enough area, sunlight, and volume to do farming in an urban setting.

To keep organic farming, you have to buy organic now.

Sustainable farms is just a self preservation act.  So, I think this is in everyone best interests.



Quoting MorganTho:

I think that organic/sustainable/urban farming is the future.





Quoting Sisteract:

It sounded ok until they discussed the application of poison-

I live in an area on the perimeter of ag country on the central coast of CA- where most of the lettuce is grown. Organic farming is huge in my town-

Quoting MorganTho:

It seemed neat until I read all the Wyoming through. Gross. Massive amounts of chemical fertilizer to thin the weeds. Where does this fertilizer go? It runs off and goes into the ground water and streams, ponds etc.





kailu1835
by Ruby Member on Dec. 4, 2012 at 4:41 PM

They have some of these that a person drives, but eliminates the need for pickers.

krysstizzle
by on Dec. 4, 2012 at 4:43 PM

Having seen the effects of the "green revolution", I tend towards wary when "new and improved" agricultural innovations come along. Nothing wrong with technology, but it's been shown that what looks like a good idea sometimes just isn't.

batmansgirl
by Bronze Member on Dec. 4, 2012 at 10:36 PM
1 mom liked this


Quoting purplerobin:


Quoting batmansgirl:

It will squelch the argument that we need illegal aliens to do that job that Americans wont do.

My rebuttal to that argument is make the prisoners do those jobs for free.

I like that idea

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