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Robotics Technology

MIT and the Constant Robotic Gardeners 101

Singularity Hub writes "MIT's Computer Science and Artificial Intelligence Laboratory (CSAIL) is pioneering the field of automated farming. During a semester-long experiment, CSAIL's researchers created a laboratory farm: tomato plants in terra cotta pots with artificial turf for grass. The goal of the experiment: to see if these tomatoes could be grown, tended, and harvested by robot caretakers."
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MIT and the Constant Robotic Gardeners

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  • Caption (Score:5, Insightful)

    by pete-classic ( 75983 ) <hutnick@gmail.com> on Wednesday April 15, 2009 @05:56PM (#27591715) Homepage Journal

    The caption under the image reads, "CSAIL's precision agriculture robots give us a peek into the future where organic life may be tended by artificial life."

    I wonder if they meant the plants . . . or us.


  • Great idea (Score:5, Insightful)

    by jason4567 ( 1531635 ) on Wednesday April 15, 2009 @06:07PM (#27591823)
    Having robots raising our food is probably a great idea, since it presents less oppurtunity for contamination. Contaminations is a big problem now, there is always some food recall because of bacteria in food or something similar. Not all of these are directly caused by humans, but I would say that a good part of them are. Having robots to do part of the work presents less oppurtunity for contamination.
  • Re:Great idea (Score:3, Insightful)

    by jason4567 ( 1531635 ) on Wednesday April 15, 2009 @06:29PM (#27592041)
    No, because robots dont forget to wash their hands. In fact, robots don't normally forget to do anything.
  • Re:Great idea (Score:3, Insightful)

    by BSAtHome ( 455370 ) on Wednesday April 15, 2009 @06:29PM (#27592043)

    Yes, but when robots do all the work, then the human population needs less food. Why then grow all those tomatoes? The more robots do, the less they need to do if for the humans. Maybe we are working on an evolutionary path making us obsolete. Let the robot philosopher break his cpu on that.

  • Interesting Trend (Score:5, Insightful)

    by Dripdry ( 1062282 ) on Wednesday April 15, 2009 @06:54PM (#27592257) Journal

    Not to be alarmist, especially since this technology is very far down the road from being widely used, but what happens if this begins to replace manual labor jobs as has been predicted for decades? I'm sure Asimov has a leg up on me but here goes:

    Without education infrastructure in place to train current generations, low cost robots will compete with unskilled laborers for work. While this could be 30-50 years down the road, what happens when the poor huddled masses can no longer do manual jobs? Will their quality of living be raised up since it will be cheap to produce things, or will those who own the means of production horde it for themselves and leave everyone who can't afford their price to starve?

    Also, this would certainly make energy needs (and potentially metals/commodities) even more accute. If the robots can't function, then no one (or many fewer people) can eat.

    I'm all for automation, but if we don't back up our technology with the understanding that we need to provide other opportunities to people, then we may be doing humanity a disservice. From a very cold point of view, though, perhaps we would just be thinning out the population, which already seems to be far larger than necessary (i don't really advocate this point of view, but I know there are those out there who do).

    I'm sure this has all come up before (ie not terribly insightful), just throwing it out there for discussion.

  • by timeOday ( 582209 ) on Wednesday April 15, 2009 @07:02PM (#27592353)
    This isn't sci-fi, it has already happened. And the answer is, technology (especially robots, not just software) are capital, so in a capitalist system they concentrate wealth. A couple generations ago, an unskilled worker could get a job putting cars together and support an entire family, now those days are gone.
  • Re:Great idea (Score:2, Insightful)

    by Aldenissin ( 976329 ) on Wednesday April 15, 2009 @07:57PM (#27592761)

    And it appears that if it takes off, they will no longer have as much opportunity. This could really change politics in America... It is interesting to watch "events" that not only have a lot of sway as time goes by, but what hardly anyone takes note of beforehand.

  • by pikine ( 771084 ) on Wednesday April 15, 2009 @08:10PM (#27592869) Journal

    These messenger boys (don't know about typists) were probably there because they come from a poor family and didn't have the means of proper education. However, they could learn much on the job by interacting with and observing the professionals. Some of the brightest who are willing to learn on their own could actually gain a successful career one day because of the experience they gathered doing these low-skill service positions. I'm sure you can find many autobiographies of successful people who began their lives similarly.

    Nowadays they are replaced by automation. That means the poor and uneducated lose a valuable opportunity to become successful. Their only chance now is to go through a proper education, and our education system still favors in many ways families living comfortable lives.

  • Re:Caption (Score:3, Insightful)

    by khellendros1984 ( 792761 ) on Wednesday April 15, 2009 @08:48PM (#27593123) Journal
  • Re:grown? (Score:3, Insightful)

    by The Iso ( 1088207 ) on Wednesday April 15, 2009 @09:09PM (#27593285)

    Don't worry, the robots would never get more energy out of us than they put in to feeding us! We would just be mercilessly slaughtered when we outlived our usefulness.

  • by fractoid ( 1076465 ) on Wednesday April 15, 2009 @11:56PM (#27594127) Homepage
    This reminds me of a hydroponics store I used to drive past on the way to work. Their storefront all but announced "Everything you need to grow... tomatoes... in your roof space!"
  • by Anonymous Coward on Thursday April 16, 2009 @12:00AM (#27594167)

    And that's precisely why education should be free of charge. There will still be poor people, but most of them will be poor because they were too lazy (or not foresighted enough) to take part in any education that the tax payers offered them. Nevertheless, their children will later get a new shot at college just like they did.

    Or that's how we do it in Europe, at least. That includs the "poor countries" in Eastern Europe. (Although, the quality of education varies quite a lot with country and school.)

  • Re:Great idea (Score:3, Insightful)

    by vertinox ( 846076 ) on Thursday April 16, 2009 @09:39AM (#27596721)

    Yes, but when robots do all the work, then the human population needs less food.

    Huh? Are you saying that if people don't work then they will eat less?

    If that were true, then when you retire you don't need that pension.

    And I don't think the robots most efficient method of gathering energy for themselves would be to grow tomatoes.

    Every time, (and I mean EVERY time) someone throughout history says that when technology that makes it easier to do something with less manpower, that humans will be obsolete and starve on the streets has been WRONG.

    They were wrong during the Luddites of the mills of England in the 1800's and they are wrong now.

    If quality of life was improved by increasing manual labor instead of using technology, then the Romans would still be around using slaves to do everything (hey it keeps everyone busy).

    My point is even if the machines do everything physical at some point in the future, chances are humans will be enabled to do other things...

    Some (a small minority) will use the free time to become great artists and thinkers, and the rest will probably watch sports on TV or surf the internet.

    Is that a bad thing?

    No. Because you have a choice to do something with your free time, unlike in the past, you worked from dawn to dusk just to survive, and died of an old age of 30.

If a camel is a horse designed by a committee, then a consensus forecast is a camel's behind. -- Edgar R. Fiedler