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Robots to help farmers

Engineers from the University of Warwick have designed robots that will reduce farm labor costs. In recent months, they've built a robotic mushroom picker, an inflatable conveyor belt and a grass cutting robot that might also be used by golf course owners.
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Written by Roland Piquepaille, Inactive on

Robots designed to help farmers have been built before (check 'Agrobots' Go to the Farm for earlier examples). But this time, engineers from the University of Warwick have chosen to develop robots that will reduce farm labor costs. In recent months, they've built a robotic mushroom picker, an inflatable conveyor belt and a grass cutting robot that might also be used by golf course owners.

These robots have been designed by an interdisciplinary team of researchers from the University of Warwick's horticultural arm, Warwick HRI, and engineers from the Warwick Manufacturing Group.

And the team has an ambitious goal: "transform farming and horticulture over the next decade." Let's look at some of their new farming robots.

Below is a picture of their mushroom picking robot(Credit: University of Warwick). "The robot uses a charged coupled camera to spot and select only mushrooms of the exact size required for picking achieving levels of accuracy far in excess of human labour. The mushroom(s) are then picked by a suction cup on the end of a robotic arm."

U. of Warwick's mushroom picking robot

As picking mushrooms at their optimal size is a delicate task, this robot doesn't work as fast as a human, but of course, it can work 24 hours a day.

Now, let's look at their grass cutting robot (Credit: University of Warwick). It can be remotely controlled by a computer "that can use [the robot] data sensors attached to the mower, to autonomously travel across fields working in groups with other robotic mowers ensure that the field is mowed as quickly as possible."

U. of Warwick's grass cutting robot

Finally, here is an image of an inflatable conveyor system developed for an agricultural machinery company, Aeropick (Credit: Aeropick).

Aeropick's inflatable conveyor system

According to the company, this inflatable conveyor can achieve "6 man hours work in 10 minutes." It also says that a 100-meter belt could handle the work of more than 100 human pickers.

Now a question remains: will these robotic systems ease farmers' lives -- or suppress their jobs?

Sources: University of Warwick news release, via EurekAlert!, March 7, 2006; and various web sites

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