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building robots

June 22, 2012

From Caleb-The Space of Food


I came across this on Grist who found it on Popular Science (those guys who in my youth showed you how to convert a lawn mower into a hover craft). The gist of it is that instead of farms being tended by single huge machines, like the tractor in the background, or huge irrigation systems, swarms of robots would tend a farm on a plant by plant basis. I kind of like this idea for weeding – the least fun job on a farm. The guy who came up with this has a background in insect biology and behavior, but also with computer “swarm technologies.” Swarm technologies don’t rely on huge numbers of data points, but instead on interaction between other bots and the environment. Right now, all these things do is plant, which is a pretty simple act, but I can see future development where they do see weeds and pests, and can sample soils, and apply water, and a myriad of other jobs.


On the other hand, what do we do with the people whose jobs are potentially displaced by this? I agree, weeding is drudgery, and the robot is preferred to chemical warfare. We replaced scores of people with a tractor, how many more with this equipment? Where do they go? How do they earn a living? In today’s profit driven world, it’s not like we replace human drudgery with leisure. Humans are routinely cast away like old tires, or even new tires that don’t fit the current fashion.


It is a pretty sad looking landscape behind this guy. Yes it is winter, but the soil doesn’t look happy. There’s something deeply aesthetically pleasing about a healthy farm, even in winter. I wonder if these little guys can provide us that same level of pleasure.

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