Wednesday, October 12, 2011

Of robots, wars, and broccoli

We are down to one employee this season: Emily. So she is becoming a harvesting machine. Actually, THIS 
is a harvesting machine. (For potatoes) As is this next photo, for grapes.

Emily, whose father works for Welch's grape juice, recently visited farms in New York State which uses harvesters on large farms with many acres dedicated to that one crop. It turns out that harvesting the diversity of shapes, textures, and sizes on our mixed vegetable farm will probably never be mechanized.  
So Emily and seasonal workers like her, will probably always be needed. 
That admission is heavy from a far futurist like me. Note that even though they had "droids", Luke Skywalker's help was needed on his uncle's moisture farm in the planet Tatooine. (Star Wars, duh.) Like so many other peasants throughout history, Luke is pulled away from the farm to fight the machine (Death Star, duh.), and I admit that it would have been a boring film series if he had stayed on the farm, and if the robots had gone and fought for him. But be that as it may, is there not irony that back on Earth in the 21st century we send our "drone" robots to wars, and people (undocumented, or Emily-types) are toiling in the field? 

I have not personally been in any armed conflicts, but just based on what I've gleaned from Braveheart et al., fighting requires lots of judgement unique to any given situation. From maneuvering over uncertain terrain, to knowing which nursery school to blow up, based on where the bad guys are hiding out... Shouldn't we leave that work to individuals with a conscious (let alone a conscience)? 
Call me crazy but lets just talk for a second about robots back on the farm.
Weeding on farms that are around 7 acres of crops up to thousands of acres in the midwest, is done primarily with tractors. As we, at Broadturn, grow in size we are becoming more familiar with the monotony of this work-- most of which by the way is still done by hand. It can't help but occur to me that the technology seems to exist for a small weeding robot that cruises up and down the rows while I smoke a pipe on the back deck, or nap. I am sick and tired of having Emily go out there and weed all day (while I smoke a pipe or nap.) 
Check this out!
People indeed are working on this. This one is from a researcher in Illinois (note the corn), but mostly the innovation is in Europe. Why? A big reason for all efficiency innovation in agriculture is labor costs. The market for farm-robots may grow if seasonal labor started at $10 an hour. But even that would be irrelevant if agriculture was given some of the financial support that now flows into making war more efficient.
Beating swords into plowshares is an old metaphor, but wouldn't it be great if monotonous jobs on mid and large sized farms could be handled with more targeted management?                  I am the last one to advocate for a more industrialized, mechanized, and non-human agriculture. But until everyone has a backyard garden or their own little dacha in the countryside... until then, Emily needs some help!
 This week's harvest--
Broccoli Raab
Butternut Squash

(Friday gets Broccoli; Tuesday will get it next week)

Blessings on the meal, 

1 comment:

  1. Great post with Great stuff.That sounds pretty cool. Keep posting interesting here. Looking forward to it. Thanks and keep it up! All the Best

    Tom Levens from Robotics India