When I was visiting family friends in Sweden a few years ago, I was intrigued to see that the man in the house next door had a robot lawnmower cutting his grass. We don’t see that so much in North America. The Swedes are ahead in other technological fields as well, from attendant-less gas stations, where you’d better know Swedish or else, to banks where a cheque is passed around as a curiosity because so many of the people there had never seen one.
But I digress. Robots is our topic for today. We’ve already seen what a hit they are in the battlefields of the ‘stans, killing people for the “war on terror”. And now we have this Wired article that’s mainly about how much better than people they are at landing aircraft on carriers. But the interesting part, to me at least, is the increase in distance from human responsibility that you get with the robot instrumentality. If we farm out more of the actual farming to robots we’d need fewer morally compromised people to ruin more of the soil on which we all depend. And that’s where it starts to get scary.
“It’s not nearly as sexy as aircraft carriers, but we have a real problem in this country. We just don’t have the manpower to do the farming that we need,” Cummings said.
Cummings comes from a farming family and said that “farmers are actually very conservative and not a crowd that lends itself to robots,” but eventually she thinks that they will. “They can’t get enough people to man the fields,” she said.
Tractors of today are crammed with state-of-the-art entertainment systems. “Why is that?” Cummings asked the audience. “It’s because it’s really boring. Let’s turn this over to the robot so that person can do something else.”
Cummings eventually showed a proprietary video supplied by John Deere of two driverless tractors spraying pesticides on a grove. Other experimental farms have robotic soil tillers and pilot-less helicopters dusting crops.
When Wired editor-in-chief and drone aficionado Chris Anderson asked when we might see these machines out in the fields, Cummings said “about 1 to 3 years.”
“We’re going to see UAVs in our everyday life to support the food we [eat]. We’re going to see this more and more in our own backyards,” she said. “The technology is pretty much ready to go. It’s just making connection to the business model. We’re on the cusp of that”.