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FarmBot: an Open Source Automated Farming Machine

Soulskill posted about 2 months ago | from the rise-of-the-technofarmer dept.

Robotics 133

New submitter ErnieKey writes: Farming has been stuck in a bit of a rut, when compared to other industries. Businesses across the globe have been innovating for decades, while farming has been using techniques that have been handed down from centuries ago. The FarmBot Foundation is creating a machine, similar to that of a CNC mill and/or 3D printer, which is capable of being run by sophisticated software and equipped with any tools you can imagine, including seed injectors, plows, burners, robotic arms (for harvesting), cutters, shredders, tillers, discers, watering nozzles, sensors and more. The goal? To increase food production by automating as much of it as possible.

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Garden Bot (2)

MarkvW (1037596) | about 2 months ago | (#47705053)

Make a GardenBot that works, and you'll become a trillionaire.

Re:Garden Bot (4, Funny)

Qzukk (229616) | about 2 months ago | (#47705127)

You could name the first ones Huey, Dewey and Louie.

Re:Garden Bot (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 2 months ago | (#47705311)

Obscure film reference, nice!

Re:Garden Bot (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 2 months ago | (#47705331)

You could name the first ones Huey, Dewey and Louie.

And teach them to cheat at poker.

Re:Garden Bot (1)

Anonymous Coward | about 2 months ago | (#47705259)

1. don't disagree, if i'm thinking of a small scale 'farm bot' that would appeal to yuppies...
2. i'm not getting some of the concepts here: they're going to have fields with these rails running up and down them for miles ? gee, i bet those are cheap and don't need any maintenance at all...
3. not sure what the whole picture is, but are they replacing cultivating and harvesting machines ? if NOT, then those rails are going to be a bitch to navigate around with big farm implements; not to mention when the rails DO get hit and bent out of alignment, etc...
4. as far as that goes, i'm not really sure what you are gaining from the rails, except a perhaps OVERLY-accurate XYZ positioning station... i don't know why a moving gantry on wheels wouldn't work... i just see MANY problems with the rails (stainless steel ? plastic ? something that won't rust but is durable ?) if you absolutely need them for accurate positioning, i would think a system of 'targets' that established XYZ datum would be easier, cheaper, and more flexible...
5. in its proposed configuration, it looks w-a-y top-heavy and unstable, either wind or a wayward cow would tip that over... (hhh cows going out farmbot tipping!)
6. say, i've got an idea, why don't we put some of the MILLIONS/BILLIONS of un/underemployed people to GOOD WORK and have THEM be 'farmbots' ? ? ?
7. they talk about all these tools, fertilization, watering, etc; but that requires a semi-complex (and expensive) field 'infrastructure' to carry the water, fertilizer, etc from the storage area to the fields, (piped through the gantry rails ?), etc...
NOT that i don't think some aspects don't make good sense, but it just seems like a HUGE investment in machinery/infrastructure for not a lot of return...
i just don't see these things operating autonomously and continuously without a LOT of babysitting...

Re: Garden Bot (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 2 months ago | (#47705531)

6. Humans can't beat robots in any area. So there is no point in using humans for labor.

Re:Garden Bot (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 2 months ago | (#47705697)

It is a huge investment. I did not read TFA but.. automating food production is a lofty goal worth investing(not necessaryily for profit gain, but for the betterment of humanity)

Re: Garden Bot (1)

Redbehrend (3654433) | about 2 months ago | (#47705905)

Bots easily run on wheels these days lol Also they have Very cheap "rail" systems these days that can even be made out of plastic/wood. What about the food prices this could help lower them. What about all the farmers that get sick? The list goes on innovation isn't something to turn away... Even if it doesn't succeed new tools will stem from this area. Automation is coming fight it all you want...

Re:Garden Bot (1, Troll)

ShanghaiBill (739463) | about 2 months ago | (#47706081)

6. say, i've got an idea, why don't we put some of the MILLIONS/BILLIONS of un/underemployed people to GOOD WORK and have THEM be 'farmbots' ???

If the unemployed were willing to be farm laborers, then they wouldn't be unemployed.

Re: Garden Bot (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 2 months ago | (#47706115)

"Creating jobs is easy... Outlaw farm machinery"

Re: Garden Bot (2)

Dr. Eggman (932300) | about 2 months ago | (#47705481)

Forget the garden, I'll settle for a cheap, effective automated lawnmower! Currently, they're all high-priced for cutting dozens or hundreds of acres. Yet, most of them still can't tell when they're about to run over a poor baby rabbit...

Re: Garden Bot (2)

LduN (3754243) | about 2 months ago | (#47705563)

that's a feature... it gets rid of all those pests

Re: Garden Bot (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 2 months ago | (#47706143)

Really? The only robotic lawn mowers I've found are for tiny yards

/.censorbot workshop, mynutswon;; not really funny (-1)

Anonymous Coward | about 2 months ago | (#47705099)

some bugs;; Due to excessive bad posting from this IP or Subnet, anonymous comment posting has temporarily been disabled. You can still login to post. However, if bad posting continues from your IP or Subnet that privilege could be revoked as well. If it's you, consider this a chance to sit in the timeout corner or login and improve your posting. If it's someone else, this is a chance to hunt them down (&/or demonize them....) based on speculation of ill intent... peace out /. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=m39DWVFK-Bw

perfect balance? 1. Maintain humanity under 500,000,000 in perpetual balance with nature. looks like there's way too many billions of us for the balance to wwwork? there's more;;; http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Georgia_Guidestones

talk about terror??? some of us are shaving with pliers now?... https://www.youtube.com/results?search_query=wmd+morgellons+weather

the stuff we come up with? based on our never ending WMD on credit fictional deity holycost inspired spiritual bankruptcy malady;

bogus to begin with then there's http://science.slashdot.org/comments.pl?sid=5517341&cid=47646895 media censorship & vandalism i can access from my pocket gadget?

all things being equitable.. any notion of real justice is based entirely on mercy, the centerpeace of momkind's heartfelt connection with creation

being spiritually & creatively merciful with each other takes out the (media/fear) drama of the always violent hateful fear & loathing punishment features. are we not each our very own reward? punish as we would wish to be punished? WMD on credit 'weather' is not punishment enough? http://www.globalresearch.ca/weather-warfare-beware-the-us-military-s-experiments-with-climatic-warfare/7561

fortunately over time the truth prevails.... see you there

Software (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 2 months ago | (#47705103)

The software used to run it is provided by Zynga and their vast experience in agricultural simulations.

not true at all (5, Insightful)

Trepidity (597) | about 2 months ago | (#47705121)

Businesses across the globe have been innovating for decades, while farming has been using techniques that have been handed down from centuries ago.

That's not true at all. Maybe in some hobby farms, but at a large scale (which is where most food actually comes from), farming in 2014 is nothing like farming in 1914. Modern agribusiness is highly automated, which is why the proportion of the U.S. population engaged in farm work has declined from about 30% to about 2%, while food production has increased.

Re:not true at all (1)

Nutria (679911) | about 2 months ago | (#47705171)

Damn, you beat me to it...

Re:not true at all (1)

Anonymous Coward | about 2 months ago | (#47705269)

Businesses across the globe have been innovating for decades, while farming has been using techniques that have been handed down from centuries ago.

That's not true at all. Maybe in some hobby farms, but at a large scale (which is where most food actually comes from), farming in 2014 is nothing like farming in 1914. Modern agribusiness is highly automated, which is why the proportion of the U.S. population engaged in farm work has declined from about 30% to about 2%, while food production has increased.

Agreed. I think we've proven in our throwaway culture in the US that food production levels are not low. Not anywhere close. And thus this is likely yet another solution without a problem. Then again, so is a internet-connected toaster, but it's coming. This particular Thing may plow fields instead of reporting server thermals, but it doesn't make it any less Internet Of.

Re:not true at all (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 2 months ago | (#47705677)

The United States is a net exporter of agricultural products. It's not about filling more American plates, but about making food cheaper for everybody else.

(Cheap food has a downside beyond obesity. American and European agricultural efficiency has destroyed the livelihood of millions of farmers around the world, especially in the poorest of countries. Normally cheaper is almost always better. But development economics has show quite persuasively--much more so than the "Wal-Mart destroys downtowns" meme--that removing this economic base from developing economics has been a tragedy.)

Re:not true at all (2)

K. S. Kyosuke (729550) | about 2 months ago | (#47705883)

If it destroys the livelihood of millions but improves the livelihood of hundreds of millions, how is your claim different from calling for buggy whip manufacturing protectionism?

Re:not true at all (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 2 months ago | (#47706141)

If it destroys the livelihood of millions but improves the livelihood of hundreds of millions, how is your claim different from calling for buggy whip manufacturing protectionism?

More food without cultural change will merely turn a hundred million person problem into a billion person problem. The regions experiencing mass food shortages also tend to have cultures desiring large families. Until these cultures adapt to belief in smaller families more food will not help. More food will just be a temporary solution, it will reduce mortality rates and set the stage for an even larger population living in the same state as before the increased availability of food.

Re:not true at all (1)

K. S. Kyosuke (729550) | about 2 months ago | (#47706569)

I had the impression that higher standard of living goes hand in hand with lower birth rates, and food security tends to be a part of the higher standard of living. I'm not sure how exactly do you propose to reverse the causality on that.

Re:not true at all (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 2 months ago | (#47707791)

The flaw in your logic is that food security is necessary but insufficient for a higher standard of living.

Merely increasing local food production or increasing imports is merely one of various things that must occur to increase the standard of living and jump start the effect you describe.

Re:not true at all (1)

Khashishi (775369) | about 2 months ago | (#47706997)

American and European agricultural efficiency has destroyed the livelihood of millions of farmers around the world, especially in the poorest of countries.

There's a simple fix to that. It's called a tariff. But these are bad for megacorps so we have treaties like NAFTA to forbid them.

Re: not true at all (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 2 months ago | (#47706189)

So long as I can recycle, I don't feel so bad about throwing away all the stuff I didn't really need anyway

Re:not true at all (3, Insightful)

plover (150551) | about 2 months ago | (#47706775)

And thus this is likely yet another solution without a problem.

No, I think the desire here is for it to be Open Source. Current agricultural tools are proprietary, where you pay a ton of money for the special GPS receiver, arrays of sensors, a database of moisture, fertilizer, and yield readings, continuously variable spray systems, auto-steering systems, and everything else.

The current systems are brilliant: they can reduce fertilizer usage by 60% or more by applying the proper amount of fertilizer on the areas that need it. This reduces cost, excess chemicals, and greatly reduces polluting runoff. They also measure how much water the crops need, and adjust irrigation accordingly. And in a greenhouse, they can even measure and control the light.

But all of that is not all that difficult to solve, apart from the hardware. Makers are getting pretty good at producing open source hardware for a lot of smaller things; and there is a desire to get open source solutions in the hands of the developing nations.

So I think there's a lot of problem out there that this could yet solve.

Re:not true at all (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 2 months ago | (#47705367)

Agreed. GPS guided tractors and combines for instance. I grew on a farm and still live in an AG state (Iowa). Every time I hear or see something like this, it is from someone knows exactly nothing about farming.

Re:not true at all (3, Informative)

rogoshen1 (2922505) | about 2 months ago | (#47705417)

Yar, and i'm guessing here without actually looking it up, there are already harvesters/combines that are GPS guided.
And after googling: Yup.

So we've got plants that since the 1960's are genetically altered (via splicing as well as breeding programmes) to grow shorter, develop more seeds, innate resistance to pests (grumble monsanto grumble grumble). Combines that literally drive themselves, fertilizer has been 'improved' (altered is maybe a better term?) to the point were god knows how much of it is is natural occurring vs petroleum based.

Products like this (while cool) are caught basically without a market. The mega farms which could use something like this, already have their own versions. The smaller farms, can't afford it.

And (yep, gonna get modded troll for this) we have a virtually unlimited supply of cheap labor from Mexico to do the grunt work.

Re:not true at all (1)

bluefoxlucid (723572) | about 2 months ago | (#47705469)

No, you're wrong. We have a Mexican labor SURPLUS, not an unlimited supply. It is, in fact, artificially limited.

Re:not true at all (1)

meta-monkey (321000) | about 2 months ago | (#47705605)

I would still like to see a fully automated farm, that requires no labor except robot maintenance. Robots to till the soil, plant the sides, harvest the crops, process them, load them on to automated trucks and ship them off to market. That would be amazing. I think a stable society in the future is going to depend on "free" food. There simply is not enough work for everyone to do, so we have massive unemployment and underemployment. We're eventually going to have to let go of the idea that you have to have a job in order to have food and shelter, but people are so scared of "socialism." "It's not fair that some people sit around and eat for free but somebody else is working in the fields!" But if you can show that food can be produced with zero human labor...wow. That's a game changer.

Re: not true at all (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 2 months ago | (#47705989)

I have to disagree. I like being outside, working the fields and feeling the earth beneath my feet. You seem to think it's some kind of horrid hell, but to some of us it's heaven. It would be like me saying I wish they'd build a robot that watches TV, plays video games and tosses itself off all the time, because frankly that sounds like hell to me.

Re:not true at all (2)

jfengel (409917) | about 2 months ago | (#47707349)

Even if it's produced with zero human labor, the price isn't going to be free. There already is practically zero human labor in the actual growing of food. The process is heavily automated already. The consumer price is dominated by the various middle men (distributors, shippers, retailers, etc.) The actual farmer receives less than a dime for each dollar you spend. Far, far less for prepared foods.

If you're willing to cook, you can buy more than enough raw ingredients to feed yourself quite well, for well under a dollar a day. And very little of that money goes to the farmer himself; you're mostly paying to get the food from the farmer to your local outlet, and then to you.

I personally wouldn't mind if MORE people had to get into farming. There are downsides to that massively automated farming: increased pesticide use, large amounts of fossil fuels, soil loss, lack of variety, etc. I'm just fine with subsidizing the food for those people who can't work, or even don't wish to: the raw materials end up costing practically nothing already, at least at the farm itself. But if people want to work... and many do... I think that more labor-intensive agriculture has some advantages.

Re:not true at all (1)

perpenso (1613749) | about 2 months ago | (#47706209)

There is much room for improvement. For example some fruits are harvested by a vehicle that deploys nets under a tree and shakes the tree. A more robot device that has a visual system to identify fruits that are at the proper ripeness for harvest and then selective collects them with an arm may be an improvement. Now consider such a device that is autonomous. Such a system may also be used with fruits and vegetable that are still harvested by hand.

Re:not true at all (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 2 months ago | (#47706467)

Even at very low labor costs high labor use farming can't compete with automation. Machines can almost always produce food or other goods cheaper than hand labor. Any agricultural product that can not be automated is doomed to be a very small expensive specialty item. The cost of labor is only one factor also the availability of hand labor for short but critical time periods favors automation even if there was no cost advantage.

Re:not true at all (1)

Notabadguy (961343) | about 2 months ago | (#47707121)

No longer.

My wife's uncle until recently had a series of Apple Orchards in Michigan, with the processing plant on the same road. For years, it's been seasonal labor harvesting apples, and the orchards selling to the plant.

His orchards are now plowed under because he can't compete with China. Apparently China can ship Apples to the United States, have them offloaded from a boat, trucked to Michigan, and delivered to this processing plant cheaper for less money than it costs the orchards across the road to harvest apples with seasonal (read: Mexicans) labor.

Re:not true at all (1)

trevc (1471197) | about 2 months ago | (#47705489)

Modern agribusiness is highly automated, which is why the proportion of the U.S. population engaged in farm work has declined from about 30% to about 2%, while food production has increased.

No, that is because it is now done by undocumented illegals.

Re:not true at all (2, Insightful)

Anonymous Coward | about 2 months ago | (#47705719)

You can actually tighten that gap up even more. Farming today is nothing like farming was in the 1980's. I left the farm in 1983 and knew every piece of equipment, top to bottom. Last year I was asked to move a tractor to a different part of the yard and I couldn't figure out how to start it, much less drive it, without being shown. We didn't have GPS guided tractors or combines. We didn't even have monitoring systems in the "brand-new, high tech" hog feeding barn. The closest thing to automation we had was hitting the feed auger "on" switch and not having to worry about shutting it off when the feeders were full.

Chemical use is way down overall. Yields are way up. And the physical effort required to do the work is much less. Have farmers moved to using a single machine to do every task? No, but doing so would be dumb. If your main tractor breaks down you can still run the combine. If your disc needs repair, you can still plow or use the tillage unit. Putting it all in one machine would mean you are down when any one thing breaks. One or two people can farm 1000's of acres where it used to require a farmer, his wife, 3 sons, 2-4 hired men and a few daughters to manage a 240 acre farm.

Of course I'm from Iowa. Ethiopia (as a stand-in for 3rd world nations) is likely a different story.

Re:not true at all (1)

K. S. Kyosuke (729550) | about 2 months ago | (#47705951)

If your main tractor breaks down you can still run the combine. If your disc needs repair, you can still plow or use the tillage unit. Putting it all in one machine would mean you are down when any one thing breaks.

I actually understand it more as unification in type rather than calling for people only having a single physical device. What prevents you from having two of them? Give it sane mechanical and electrical interfaces, and a single chassis could be specialized if needed (but not unless necessary).

Re: not true at all (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 2 months ago | (#47706203)

Very true. You could have more than one.

White/Gleaner had a system in the late 70's and early 80's that was basically central power train that could be connected many different modules. It seemed really smart until the engine developed a problem. It had no retail value and didn't work very well in practice.

Ag is a science but it is also an art. I don't believe it can be completely automated. I may be proven wrong and time will tell.

First microcomputer lab was by Ag Department ... (1)

perpenso (1613749) | about 2 months ago | (#47706633)

Farming today is nothing like farming was in the 1980's. I left the farm in 1983 ...

That's about the time my university got its first microcomputer lab. The lab was put together by the agriculture department. Mostly Apple //e. Apparently there was a lot of farm management and planning software in existence. And I'm not talking financial accounting. Thing like planning crop rotations, planting, harvesting, watering, minimizing fertilizer and pesticide use, etc.

I was a CS major but I helped them set up the lab so they let me use it.

Bad summary but cool project (1)

SoftwareArtist (1472499) | about 2 months ago | (#47706351)

Don't be put off by the clueless submitter. This is actually a really cool project that goes way beyond existing types of automation. This quote, for example, gives a sense of the kinds of things they're trying to enable:

The tremendous potential that FarmBot creates, allows for many new methods of farming, including the ability to create “polycrops” which mix and match different crops, unlike methods seen on typical farms.... Traditionally this has been impossible, as each different plant species requires different care techniques. For example, some crops require more water than others, while some crops require water at their stalk, rather than at their base. Some plants require more or different types of fertilizers than others. FarmBot’s software makes this process extremely simple, as each plant can virtually be programmed for their individual needs.

GPS and laser guidance systems for centuries? (5, Informative)

raymorris (2726007) | about 2 months ago | (#47705129)

> Farming has been stuck in a bit of a rut, ... farming has been using techniques that have been handed down from centuries ago.

Apparently this author's understanding of agriculture is based on cartoons. Self-driving cars are a brand new thing; largely self-driving agricultural equipment is not so new. Have a look at the cockpit of a modern John Deere in working trim. Better yet, come on down to Tecas A&M (agriculture and mechanical) and we'll show you some things. It's no coincidence that A&M is a leader in drone research too.

Re:GPS and laser guidance systems for centuries? (1)

MacTO (1161105) | about 2 months ago | (#47705213)

Even as an outsider, I heard about many of the advancements cited in the article. However, I wonder if the project's intent is to reduce the cost of automation in agriculture. While that may not be a huge issue in developed nations, where food is already relatively inexpensive, surely it is an issue in developing nations.

Re:GPS and laser guidance systems for centuries? (1)

K. S. Kyosuke (729550) | about 2 months ago | (#47706031)

The project's intent seems to be to give people a DIY route or perhaps adaptability for specific applications. Can you build or mod this "modern John Deere" mentioned above yourself in this way? I also wonder about the applicability of both for non-chemical weed and pest control.

Re: GPS and laser guidance systems for centuries? (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 2 months ago | (#47705235)

You won't be showing the poster how to avoid typographical errors, however.

Re: GPS and laser guidance systems for centuries? (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 2 months ago | (#47705263)

It's a clever ruse.
Typos are the only thing that distinguishes man from machine anymore.

DAMMIT.

Re:GPS and laser guidance systems for centuries? (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 2 months ago | (#47705245)

come on down to Tecas A&M (agriculture and mechanical) and we'll show you some things

Aggie proofreading FTW!

here's a pic (2)

raymorris (2726007) | about 2 months ago | (#47705273)

To make it easy, here's a picture of the "centuries old" technology in a 2010 model John Deere 1910E.
https://c1.staticflickr.com/5/... [staticflickr.com]

Re:here's a pic (1)

CastrTroy (595695) | about 2 months ago | (#47705501)

Yes. And compare that to a tractor from 100 years ago [flickr.com] . There's way more difference between the two tractors and 2 cars that are as far apart in the timeline.

Re:here's a pic (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 2 months ago | (#47705703)

Personally, I prefer to pull my plow by a team of Rottweilers, like some redneck ancient Roman farmer.

Re:here's a pic (1)

perpenso (1613749) | about 2 months ago | (#47706321)

Personally, I prefer to pull my plow by a team of Rottweilers, like some redneck ancient Roman farmer.

Roman farmers would have used oxen, horses and mules just like US farmers of the 1800s. The dogs were for security and hunting, and of course doubled as family pets, just like today.

Re:GPS and laser guidance systems for centuries? (2)

bluefoxlucid (723572) | about 2 months ago | (#47705509)

I read that as Texas A&M at first. Hilarious because we have potato scoopers, peanut harvesters, corn combines, and such here; while Arizona is using mexicans, and giving reports on the labor-intensive task of harvesting peanuts and potatoes.

Farms don't employ labor on the east coast.

Re:GPS and laser guidance systems for centuries? (1)

Anonymous Coward | about 2 months ago | (#47706707)

The harvesting peanuts and potatoes is not any more labor intensive than the harvesting of cotton. It can be fully automated with machinery and merely supervised by an operator. Just because some of those from Arizona value people at less than machinery does not change the facts.

Hm, confused (1)

angel'o'sphere (80593) | about 2 months ago | (#47705153)

So this bot is not for WoW or Eve online?

Start with bad assumptions (3, Insightful)

randomencounter (653994) | about 2 months ago | (#47705173)

Get bad results.

Agriculture has been advancing as fast as any other technology field.

Here are some recent developments: http://www.popularmechanics.co... [popularmechanics.com]
and GPS is becoming important to farm competitiveness: https://www.bae.ncsu.edu/topic... [ncsu.edu]

None of this depending on massive fixed installations, so it can be used cost effectively over thousands of acres of fields.

Can I get some of what you're smoking? (1)

Anonymous Coward | about 2 months ago | (#47705177)

Because I wasn't aware that power tractors, modern pesticides, and engineered crops had been around for "centuries." And it will be interesting to see if an all-in-one robot will really do better than each of those functions on separate towed carriages that a generic tractor pulls. My guess is "no."

a holistic bot ecosystem (2)

Thud457 (234763) | about 2 months ago | (#47705477)

I think you've put your finger on an underserved market - clandestine growbots that can be sent out to tend your crop in national forests while maintaining plausible denialblitiy.
Anti-aircraft-drone drones. Drive-by killbots for defending your territory. And pusherbots. And if you expand into related industries, pimpbots.

Like Syndicate LARP. With robots.
You know, for the kids.

Re:a holistic bot ecosystem (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 2 months ago | (#47705557)

My pimpbot would wear fur.

Re:Can I get some of what you're smoking? (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 2 months ago | (#47707633)

It'd do a shitload better job in my garden than a tractor would. I have a kitchen garden, but it's totally manual, and most years we screw up and leave things too late. This thing is what I need!

Crazy statement! (1)

Anonymous Coward | about 2 months ago | (#47705193)

"while farming has been using techniques that have been handed down from centuries ago"

That's such horse shit (excuse the abstract pun), I nearly fell off my chair.

The mechanisation of farming, in the last 200 years, is probably one of the most profound changes humanity has witnessed in a thousand years!

In the last 60 or 70 years, development in the agricultural sector has been so rapid, it's now possible for a single person to do the job of 20, 30, 40 people and above, depending on the size of the farm.

Then we get down to seed, GM crops, fertilizers, sensors, irrigation.

Anyone who can't see how much farming has changed and innovated over the centuries is... well, lets just politely say, misinformed in the extreme.

What do they teach kids in school these days?

Re:Crazy statement! (2)

Adriax (746043) | about 2 months ago | (#47706821)

The pilgrims faced starvation and death the first winter until the native americans introduced them to corn based ethanol to power their tractors.

Nice Summary (2)

robstout (2873439) | about 2 months ago | (#47705195)

Too bad it's so inaccurate. My wife works for John Deere. Their combines now have GPS in them, and will do crop analysis while harvesting. I tihnk the only thing keeping them from being fully automated is the farmers themselves.

Re:Nice Summary (1)

istartedi (132515) | about 2 months ago | (#47705329)

I'm not in the biz but I was aware tractors were pretty hi tech now. I'm thinking you still need a person in the seat for a number of reasons. The first thing that comes to mind is that something might get snagged. The tractor is like a giant copy machine. Corn tray full. PC LOAD FERTILIZER.

Paper Cassette Load... (1)

tepples (727027) | about 2 months ago | (#47705519)

PC LOAD FERTILIZER.

But what does the PC stand for there? Poop Cassette?

Tomorrow belongs to me! (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 2 months ago | (#47705225)

"Businesses across the globe have been innovating for decades, while farming has been using techniques that have been handed down from centuries ago."

Oh fuck off. Farming is the oldest industry by millennia and the very archetype of "mature". This means it doesn't jump from fad to fad every two years like, say, high tech - if that happened, we'd all go short of food and a few billion would die off a couple of times a decade. Agricultural engineering, like working out what the third world needs to lift it out of poverty, is not a matter of a cadre of ivory tower grads building a sub-$100 laptop and declaring they've FREED THE WORLD. While I respect the VMS "it's all there" philosophy, VMS being recently EOLed notwithstanding, I'm not sure creating a modular farming super-vehicle - with a high-cost, lowest-common-denominator base - is coming anywhere near to understanding how farming works.

IAAF. Well, lived and worked on one for a while - not highly industrialised and intensive, so in b4 "this isn't targeted at people like you", but I understood enough that - like every industry - it's 95% wisdom and 5% "innovation" which allows a farm to sustainably produce. In Europe, an end to asymmetric trade agreements that turn third world nations into aggressive exporters on starvation died, and the cancelling of subsidies which favour large-scale "farmers" who (in terms of balance of contribution) are net idle landowners, would give a far greater boost to Western farming.

Are you high? (1)

geekoid (135745) | about 2 months ago | (#47705229)

" while farming has been using techniques that have been handed down from centuries ago. "

What? we have made better plows, we have automated harvesters, we can genetically engineer plants to make the better, starter and healthier.
.

Re:Are you high? (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 2 months ago | (#47705347)

what we need now is INEXPENSIVE agricultural automation. preferably one that is capable of doing fruits and vegetables. currently, tomatoes and the like rely on human labor to harvest.

Handed down from centuries ago (2, Informative)

Anonymous Coward | about 2 months ago | (#47705251)

Someone hasn't been on a farm in a while. Farming is seriously high tech, with computer vision and robots and machines the size most city dweller won't see their whole life. You may think having a latest gen smart phone and sitting in front of a computer all day makes you high tech, but farmers have you beat.

Re:Handed down from centuries ago (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 2 months ago | (#47705383)

That's true. However, unlike farmers I can actually afford my gadgets without government subsidies. How many of them would be buying the latest and greatest every year without those huge checks? Hell, from what I've seen, they don't even bother to take care of the equipment because they're not the ones paying for it.

Controlled Environment Agriculture (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 2 months ago | (#47705257)

I look at the rails these things use and think that maybe they could hang the robot arms off or the ceiling of a greenhouse and different robots run along with a hopper full of seeds, or an unbilical that runs to a water source, or whatever. It should be modular enough that I can move my watering bots from greenhouse to greenhouse along tracks and not need a lot of human intervention.

Cue Gene Simmons (1)

CambodiaSam (1153015) | about 2 months ago | (#47705261)

Ah, so now we can fully realize the dream of Gene Simmons reprogramming robots to kill. I seem to remember a farming robot was part of the intro. http://www.imdb.com/title/tt00... [imdb.com]

laser levelling (4, Informative)

jmichaelg (148257) | about 2 months ago | (#47705351)

The fields I drive by on my way to work put the lie to the author's premise. A week ago, I saw a road-scrapper type device running around a field that had a spinning laser positioned more or less in the center of the field. The laser provided a level reference that the scrapper responded to moment by moment by lifting or lowering the blade. The machines are designed to build a field with a precise gradient so the farmer can minimize the amount of water needed to irrigate the field as well as to uniformly irrigate the crop. The water may be free but lifting it from the aquifer isn't.

Further down the road, there was a device that was building perfect raised beds covered in plastic. Strawberries need to be grown in well drained soil and the raised beds provide that. The plastic is used to keep a fumigant on the bed until it decays instead of leaking into the atmosphere prior to seeding. Once the soil is fumigated, it's planted by an automated planter that leaves the plastic in place to reduce evaporation - again to save water.

The next field over was being harvested by a machine that requires two people to operate it. Ten years ago, there'd be a crew of 30 doing the same task.

The industrial revolution upended farming from what it was centuries ago and that process hasn't stopped since. The net result is fewer people are needed to grow more food at a lower cost. Downside is calories have become so cheap that most of us are overfed.

Re:laser levelling (1)

bluefoxlucid (723572) | about 2 months ago | (#47705595)

We don't need to produce more food; we need to waste less than 63%.

Er... no. (1)

Anonymous Coward | about 2 months ago | (#47705355)

Everything that can be automated has been automated. Just look at a modern combine harvester and marvel.

Delicate crops are more difficult to automate not because we lack the technology to built a machine to do it, but because that machine is not cost-efficient to build compared to slave labor.

We didn't ship in another five million Mexicans for nothing, kids.

How to prevent illegal immigration (1)

SuperKendall (25149) | about 2 months ago | (#47706609)

Provide free farming automation equipment to all farmers within 200 miles of any border.

It seems like that would cut down so heavily on demand for labor, that not many people would find it worth trying to cross.

Re:How to prevent illegal immigration (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 2 months ago | (#47706917)

Won't work. Migrant laborers are a lot more mobile than you seem to think -- farms in Washington may be less than 200 miles from the Canadian border, but most of the illegals employed at harvest time crossed from Mexico into Arizona.

Printer? Where? (1)

fgouget (925644) | about 2 months ago | (#47705373)

They plan to take this technology to an entirely new level by creating a 3D Printer that is capable of, you guessed it, farming.

So it's not a printer in any sense of the word. Great start for that article. The rest really goes downhill from there. Shouldn't it have been published on the 1st of April?

Re:Printer? Where? (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 2 months ago | (#47705835)

It sort of looks like a 3D printer, in that it's installed on and slides along two powered rails and is therefore hilariously impractical for almost anything.

High tech farming (1)

Hoov7178 (628446) | about 2 months ago | (#47705405)

They have doohickey's out now that take advantage of satellite imaging to tell the farmers where there is a problem in the fields, where it may need more or less fertilizer or water, how to plant better, when crops need to be rotated. There is also equipment with camera's on them that adjust the fertilizer or pesticides coming out of each nozzle on the fly. That way what is being put on the crop is customized for what that section of field needs. As been said above, combines and tractors where the operator just monitors what is going on, because between the GPS and the onboard computers everything is taken care of. If you want to improve farming, figure out how to drive a machine thru a field picking ripe tomatoes without bruising it, or knocking any other tomatoes to the ground. Or how to harvest fruit, only the ripe fruit, out of a tree or off a vine. Or how to pick broccoli, cabbage, lettuce and other foods like that without all the stoop labor.

Re:High tech farming (1)

Bob the Super Hamste (1152367) | about 2 months ago | (#47705729)

Just because in the southwest US (looking at you California that should be a desert) they still use lots of manual labor doesn't mean that that there aren't machine that can harvest these crops. There are machines that shake fruit trees and catches it, picks grapes off the vines, harvest tomatoes (the machine takes in the whole plant), and I wouldn't be surprised if picking things like broccoli, cabbage, and lettuce couldn't be done in a similar fashion, especially given what I have seen in the grocery store over the last few years.

Re:High tech farming (1)

hondo77 (324058) | about 2 months ago | (#47705861)

Who told you California isn't using machines for harvesting? Good look finding workers harvesting grapes out here, as it's all done by machines now. How do you think we're able to feed the rest of you slackers? ;-)

Nomenclature (3, Informative)

Ideonaut (2047822) | about 2 months ago | (#47705431)

That's not a rut, it's a furrow.

not FarmBot but GardenBot? (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 2 months ago | (#47705435)

It's hard to tell, but it looks like this is maybe mean for farming 1000 sq ft and not 1000 acres.

Techniques handed down from centuries ago (1)

kruach aum (1934852) | about 2 months ago | (#47705645)

Like tractors and fertilizer.

Good luck (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 2 months ago | (#47705667)

Good luck with that, I help out part time with a family farm and lots of things can go wrong that aren't easily detectable with current equipment/sensors. Even plowing/fitting/planting a small field a driver may have to deal with dozens of incidents, such as hydraulic lines popping out/failing, branches/stalks jamming the plow/fitter/planter, flat tires on equipment and tractors, etc. In order to detect most issues it would require a pretty extensive suite of sensors. And some of these situations can result in major damage/inconvenience if not detected right away, something as simple as a lack of/failed moisture sensor could result in having to disassemble an entire planter assembly because a quick spring shower moistened the ground and plugged all of the disks/compactors.

How revolutionary (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 2 months ago | (#47705735)

Silicon Valley company, announcing an innovative product for farms:

Farming is stuck in old-fashioned ways. Farmers spew millions of gallons of poison on the ground trying to kill a few weeds. They waste water as if there is no tomorrow.
These overall-wearing rubes are destroying the environment in their incompetence. Hell, they don't even stop at Starbucks on their way to work, and they drive diesel pickups that spew black smoke under load! Le's face it, they have no idea what they're doing. Well, we're here to change that. We've hired the best and brightest from the computer industry with expertise ranging from user interface design to 3D printing. We've developed a new (insert new thing here: flying copter, automated tractor, social network, solar-powered irrigation pump, virtual Mexican). It is going to revolutionize farming.

Farmers, upon hearing the news:

LOL

This is great news (1)

jez9999 (618189) | about 2 months ago | (#47705855)

I've been looking for ways to reduce my time actively playing Farmville for a while now.

Automation? (1)

8tim8 (623968) | about 2 months ago | (#47705961)

>The goal? To increase food production by automating as much of it as possible.

They believe that automation is the key to increasing food production? Are they serious? The key to increasing food production is to either get more acreage in production, or to increase the amount of food produced per acre. Most types of farming (like corn & wheat) don't take huge amounts of labor. Even if they could automate something like picking vegetables that still wouldn't make it so there's more food, just, maybe, cheaper food.

Naive (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 2 months ago | (#47705967)

Has this guy not been to a large-scale farm recently? They already have technology *way* better than this in terms of cost, precision, and scale. That's a cute college project you've got going there, but it's not even headed in the right direction to be economically viable for mass food production. As for the small-scale backyard gardens, like the one the presenter has at home. Let me break down the reality on that for you: If you enjoy gardening as a hobby, and you're in the sort of upper crust of the economic classes that almost everyone in the western world is, you can afford to have a hobby garden that brings you enjoyment and provides you with fresh nutritious food. But don't think for a *second* that you're saving money, time, or the environment by doing so. Your backyard garden cannot possibly compete, by orders of magnitude, with any kind of large-scale commercial operations on any of these fronts (time/money investment per nutrition value or eco-friendliness). You're at the top of economic food chain and thus can afford to waste time, land, money, and materials on getting a superior food product. Even if money and energy basically became free (fusion reactors or something), you couldn't feed the world's population this way - it simply doesn't scale. There isn't enough arable land on the planet to feed everyone using backyard-garden type techniques. Even if you did have enough land (or more realistically, started by killing off 90% of the world population so that the garden-grown food would stretch far enough), you'd destroy the environment much faster with gardens than large-scale, efficient farming.

Techniques from centuries ago? (1)

neo-mkrey (948389) | about 2 months ago | (#47705999)

Like genetically engineers crops, GPS in tractors and automated grain processing facilities?

The Farmzoid is impervious! AH-HA-HA-HA! (1)

MensaMoron (1840474) | about 2 months ago | (#47706077)

I just had a flashback to 'Spaced Invaders'

A Couple of Thoughts (1)

LifesABeach (234436) | about 2 months ago | (#47706503)

  1. change Y and Z axis
  2. 3 laws safe?

There is no "FarmBot" (1)

Animats (122034) | about 2 months ago | (#47706559)

There is no "FarmBot". There is only a Kickstarter project [kickstarter.com] to start a wiki to create a social network for talking about farming-related subjects, parhaps including talking about a FarmBot.

Obviously written by a non-farmer (1)

pubwvj (1045960) | about 2 months ago | (#47706663)

"Farming has been stuck in a bit of a rut, when compared to other industries. Businesses across the globe have been innovating for decades, while farming has been using techniques that have been handed down from centuries ago."

That was obviously written by a non-farmer. Farming is one of the leading places of innovation and technological advancement both at small and large scale farms. I take it from the writer's obvious ignorance that they live in a box in the city.

Have these people actually been on a farm. (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 2 months ago | (#47706771)

Have any of these guys actually spent any amount of time on a actual functioning farm. You can already do the seeding with GPS down to like 0.1 inch on your tractor. Same main body does the harvest and haul in most cases. There is so much farm automation out in the market its astonishing, food prices as low as they are will never show returns on something like this.

Will help with the zombie apocalypse. (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 2 months ago | (#47707323)

This should be really helpful when the zombie apocalypse hits. This way, even when the farmers have already turned into zombies, their farms can still produce food for the survivors. That will be really important once the canned goods run out. Rick Grimes really doesn't strike me as much of a farmer.

ErnieKey obviously has no knowledge of US farming (1)

crmarvin42 (652893) | about 2 months ago | (#47707913)

If ernieKey knew anything about modern agriculture he wouldn't have claimed such a lack of technological progress in agriculture. Crop production uses GPS controlled tractors and combines, animal production uses computer controlled monitoring and automation of environmental controls, electronic feeding systems that allow for group housing AND individualized nutrition plans, feed mills use real time NIR to evaluate feedstuffs so as to enable more accurate feed formulation, slaughter houses are wonders of automation where a carcass can be processed with a minimum of human interaction... I could go on indefinitely. As neat as his techno be, the tech already in widespread use in the industry is similarly impressive (and shipping TODAY).
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