Humans vs. Agribots (5)

The transition from where agriculture is today to where it is going to be will not happen overnight.  The creation of reliable robots that are created for the appropriate crop will need to be created and thoroughly tested.  Because farms are more challenging to automate than factories, agribots will need dexterous engineering to withstand the natural dynamic conditions of a farm. The ultimate goal of engineering efforts will need to fulfill the desired outcomes a farmer has for their crops. Tony Stentz of the Robotics Institute at Carnegie Mellon University in Pittsburgh, says that picking fruit is not the challenge, but rather doing so cost efficiently is. Luckily for farmers, agribots of today have been engineered to include vision and other sensing systems to meet their promise of efficiency.  The nature of fruit variation with varying levels of sensitivity needs to be considered as well. Robots will need to be able to perform hand-picking movements such as twisting, plucking or sucking produce from stems all the while doing so with the right amount of pressure. Farms have far more variables to consider when they are placed in outdoor environments, like changing weather conditions. Though we have robots that are capable of manual labor in greenhouse environments, engineers need to consider the longevity of robots in regard to dynamic circumstances.  Agribots that are able to withstand open air farm environments will need to be developed.

When agribots become fit for such dynamic conditions and not have the limitations the the agribots of today have, each farm will have options to consider for their workforce. Assuming that enough early adopters find success with the integration of agribots in place of humans, even for a portion of their land, popularity and agribot demand is assumed. In this hypothetical case, farmers will have three options of adoptions. The first option for farmers will be for farmers to remain fully human operated, despite the rise in agribot popularity.  The second option that farmers will be able to make is the polar opposite; to rid human manual labor entirely and transition to a fully agribot operated farm. Spread, a Japanese vegetable producer has already set out to do this (2016). There does not need to be such polarity, though. The other option that is in the realm of possibilities is to reserve a fraction of low-skill manual positions for humans that are not in the position to acquire expert skills to create or maintain robots. Each option has weighted benefits and drawbacks that need to be closely examined by farm owners who wish to progress in their agricultural endeavours.


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