Farm robots are headed to their first customers this year. These hardwired troops can do anything from scout crops to take out weeds, with the promise of increased efficiency — all without a driver.
Computer vision and robotics, supported by miles of computer code, have given these machines vision, touch, and with a little programing, a brain. Now they’re looking for a home.
“The biggest question we get from farmers is always, ‘When can I buy this? When will this be available?’ ” says roboticist Stewart Moorehead, who heads up John Deere’s robotics group in Champaign, Ill. John Deere already sells a robot called the R-Gator for use in the military.
Moorehead makes the distinction between “autonomous” systems, or “robots,” and “automated” systems that still require a driver onboard. In farming, automated products such as John Deere’s MachineSync and Claas’ AutoFill and Windrow Guidance have been on the market for a few years now.
“In the realm of robotics, we are still at the very early stages, where we are just starting to see a few small startup companies coming to market with some products designed for farmers,” he says. “Most of these are being put in the hands of ‘lead customers’ and ‘user groups,’ typically under lease agreements.”
Many companies and research institutions are experimenting with prototypes of robotic machinery. The key will be when someone actually brings a machine to the market. Here’s just a cross-section of those that are coming close to a field near you.
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