April 29, 2014
Agricultural Drones Raise Farm Productivity

Autonomous small UAVs can fly around a farm at low altitude and take pictures of how the crops are doing. Then software can put all the pictures together, do image processing on them, and point out areas where, say, grapes are healthier or more stressed..

Look ahead about 30 years. A piece of autonomous farm equipment could break down. A drone could quickly fly parts to it from a warehouse many miles away. A farm robot could go out and replace the broken part. Then the equipment could restart and continue plowing or picking crops.

30 years is probably too far out. It seems more likely that 20 years from now most tractors will not be human-operated. I bet we will get fully autonomous tractors before fully automated cars. The farm presents fewer threats to humans if a tractor goes awry because fewer humans will be around. The automation itself will cut way down on already low numbers of people who work on most farms.

Share |      Randall Parker, 2014 April 29 10:08 PM 

Brett Bellmore said at April 30, 2014 3:03 PM:

I anticipate the drones having a combination of multi-spectral imaging and lasers; Anything that doesn't look like the crop or a beneficial insect gets toasted, without chemicals.

Ronald Brak said at May 1, 2014 6:56 PM:

We have robot mining trucks in Australia, and are introducing robot truck washers to wash robot trucks and robot trains to carrying production from mines. But mining equipment can be run pretty much 24/7. Farming is more cyclical in capital use. This doesn't mean robots won't catch on, it will just be likely to happen first where the equipment can be used fairly continuously.

And I'm wondering if electric flight will boost rural aviation in general. Here many farmers do without plane because the costs of maintenance are simply too high and the cost of maintaining a pilot's licence is also high. But electric flight has the potential to greatly reduce mainentance and fuel costs, and robo pilots could reduce pilot costs. This will make it easier to shift a small number of humans around a large expanse of farming land.

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