Robots Able To Pick Peppers, Test Soil & Prune Plants Aim To Replace Farm Workers

Tony Gosling tony at
Tue Aug 26 00:37:49 BST 2014

Robots Able To Pick Peppers, Test Soil, And Prune 
Plants Aim To Replace Farm Workers

Written By: 
Dorrier  =  Posted: 07/14/14 8:00 AM

At the turn of the last century, nearly half of 
the American workforce was dedicated to 
agriculture. Industrial inventions like the steel 
plow had made farming easier, but it was still 
grueling labor performed by men, women, and work animals.

The invention of the combustion engine changed 
all that. The mechanization of farm labor drove 
massive productivity gains, and today, 
agricultural workers make up just over 2% of the workforce.

Now, another revolution is underway­the outright 
automation of farming. Farm robots are 
increasingly capable of autonomously performing 
complex tasks including plowing, plant and soil 
surveillance, and even the harvesting of fruit and vegetables.

Thanks to a combination of cheap sensors and 
computer vision, machines are capable of more 
freely navigating and performing other complex 
tasks. The tech uses a combination of infrared 
sensors and stereoscopic cameras to drive 
robots in hospitals and allow 
industrial bots to recognize, differentiate, and 
pick irregular shapes like haphazardly stacked 
boxes. (Computer vision is also behind 
Project Tango 3D-seeing smartphone and tablet.)

Clearly, these skills are also useful on the farm 
where many jobs have historically been beyond the 
average robot. Picking an apple, for example, 
requires visually examining an object that varies 
in shape and may be hidden in a chaotic canopy of 
leaves. Is it ripe? Workers must check for color and size.

Whereas in the past, robots were ill-suited for 
such work­that is less the case now. Computer 
vision, for example, is at the heart of the 
robotic pepper picker.
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