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How Long Until a Robot Checks Your Crops?

20:24PM Dec 16, 2014

One day in the future, your best hired help in the fields could be a robot.

The USDA on Monday announced that it has selected researchers at four universities to receive $3 million in grants “to advance the use of robots that work alongside people in American production agriculture.”

Here’s what is being funded through the program, which is part of the National Robotics Initiative:

  • Robotics that will collect leaves and soil samples so that farmers can see how their integrated pest and crop management plans are working. (Georgia Tech, $900,000)
  • An agricultural network which combines “human operators” (i.e., farmers) with versatile “mobile robotic platforms” that are able to collect relevant information for all types of land, soil, crops, and data platforms. (University of Illinois, $533,000)
  • A way of identifying and tracking farm workers in the fields to ensure their safety when agricultural robots are being used, similar to how some new car technology can detect and avoid pedestrians. (Carnegie Mellon University, $560,000)
  • Fruit orchard technology that will allow humans and robots to work together to harvest apples and other tree fruits. (Washington State University, $1.01 million)

“We are on the cusp of seeing incredible advancement in the use of robotics and sensors supporting agriculture in this country,” said Sonny Ramaswamy, NIFA director. “These technologies, which are components of the ‘internet of agricultural things,’ have the ability to make agriculture production more efficient, saving time and money – benefits that can be passed from producers to consumers.”