One of the most significant barriers in modern agriculture is the amount of time and personnel required to monitor the wellbeing of all plants in a crop. By automating the information collection and analysis processes, it is possible to greatly decrease the cost of maintaining a sizeable commercial farm. The release was published on the IEEE spectrum website.
The Georgia Tech robot, known as Tarzan swings along wires and collects information about plants in the form of photographs and infrared images. When this information collection platform is combined with an automated image processing platform, the potential of farmers to monitor and maintain their crops increases significantly, reducing waste and cost of food production.
What barriers stand in the way of efficient food production
Food production requires time, money, and dedicated effort. If crops are not monitored and maintained properly, the food will not likely grow to fruition. Farmers commonly lose crops due to things like dehydration, pests, and malnutrition. If these losses can be prevented, then the cost of producing food can be reduced significantly.
Another, related challenge is balancing the amount of labor needed with labor used. Having too many hands on payroll can lead to a less productive workforce, but too few can lead to ineffective harvests and spoiled crops. By reducing the amount of human labor required, the Tarzan robot can reduce the amount of wasted money and spoiled crops.
Traditional wheeled robots needed large wheels to prevent getting bogged down in mud and dirt which often resulted in running over plants and inefficient energy usage. The Tarzan robot was modeled after a sloth, swinging between guy wires with incredible efficiency.
How does crop monitoring help?
Crop monitoring is essential to determining if a plant needs to be watered, fed, or treated for pests. Crops can be completely killed by these factors, resulting in potentially significant losses for the farmers and possible food shortage for consumers. The World Resources Institute estimates that one-in-four calories grown for human consumption is never used by humans.
How does the Tarzan robot help?
Automated monitoring allows farmers to employ fewer farmhands while maintaining if not improving the level of crop quality they would have otherwise achieved. Combining an autonomous monitoring system with an image recognition system gives the potential to correctly diagnose illness or other negative environmental issues at the earliest possible phase.
Improved crop health and productivity serve two purposes: reducing the cost of food production and increasing overall yield at the time of harvest. Through automation and more efficient processes, it is possible to reduce the 25% waste value to a more reasonable level, thereby increasing the amount of available calories which can be used to feed the rest of the world’s population.
Farming is one of the oldest professions known to man, yet it still suffers from inefficiency like many other professions. The world currently loses nearly one-quarter of the calories produced. The level of waste can likely be reduced through automation of processes such as crop monitoring and testing.
The Tarzan robot can currently only be equipped with photography equipment, but in future iterations, it may be capable of taking soil samples, leaf samples, and pest sample for analysis. Using photographic recognition for the visual and infrared status of plants, machine learning can also be implemented to view and sort the immense quantities of data that such an approach will undoubtedly produce.
Agriculture has many areas in which efficiency can be improved, monitoring and analysis of crops is a strong first step, but in order to feed the world’s population, we will need to both increases production and maintain or increase efficiency. The Tarzan robot is a strong step forward, though. Both efficient and effective at its designed purpose and all with the potential to expand its function.