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AgriRover Brings Mars Rover Technology To the Farm 41

Zothecula writes "We tend to think of livestock farmers as 'one man and his dog,' but if AgResearch of New Zealand has anything to say, that pair may have to move over to include a robot. A team led by Dr. Andrew Manderson is developing AgriRover, an agricultural robot inspired by NASA's Mars rovers. It's a proof-of-concept prototype designed to show how robots can make life easier and more productive for livestock farmers."
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AgriRover Brings Mars Rover Technology To the Farm

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  • My image. (Score:3, Informative)

    by Anonymous Coward on Friday November 08, 2013 @07:45AM (#45366645)

    "We tend to think of livestock farmers as 'one man and his dog,'..

    No, I think of them just locking the animals in huge pens, force feeding them corn, pumping them up with anti-biotics and other drugs so that they can digest food that they didn't evolve to eat ( they supposed to eat grass and are incapable of digesting corn without much pharmaceutical help), live in their own shit and piss, and then slaughtered. And I won't get into the subsidies they get ...

    I don't know who they're talking about in the article - non-US farms?

    • Re:My image. (Score:5, Interesting)

      by flyneye ( 84093 ) on Friday November 08, 2013 @08:13AM (#45366763) Homepage

      We've always raised cattle on an open pasture and alfalfa bales.
      Anti-biotics don't "pump cattle up", it keeps infectious diseases from the herd. Although I admit, I don't do anything to the cattle I intend to slaughter for beef for myself. If you want to pump cattle up, do it the old fashioned way, a few days before market, salt their food til they get on the truck. They'll soak up water like a sponge. @ 9+ lb. per gallon, it helps tip the scales nicely for max profit. Corn? Damned if I'm gonna spend that kind of money, don't know anyone else who will either.
      Silage is usually milo based. Feedyards are kinda gross and I do not approve, but even then, they have an interest in keeping cattle alive for their clients. It is poorly run yards, indeed, that get filmed for the "feel sorry for the cows" propaganda films they use to get money from vegetarians and animal lovers. But what are they going to use, an example of the majority that clean pens, doctor their cattle and mix nutrition blends for weight gain. I would suggest that if corn is involved, it is fed during a pre market cycle. Individual farmers most likely to pasture their cattle, who can't afford the cost of feed yards, sure as shit don't feed corn. I dunno, maybe in Iowa , but I doubt it. So, how do you raise your cattle? What, you've never seen one eye to eye? Maybe you need a trip to the farm, boy. It will improve your credibility.

    • Seems a strange article. Do /.ers know that a farm is?
  • by flyneye ( 84093 )

    The dreaded cow drone!

    • I think we have a new literary title for the 21st century: "Do android farmer dogs dream of electric sheep with greater likelihood than other kinds of androids?" (Yeah, I know; I'd be pretty lousy fiction writer!)
      • by flyneye ( 84093 )

        By Farmer K. Brown.
                  In which Bessie is hunted by the cow drone who wants answers; How long will my battery last? Why can't I mark trees without losing 10W40? Why won't master pet me? SQUIRREL!!!! (whoosh)

    • The dreaded cow drone!

      I wonder if it's bull proof?

      P.S. By bull I mean a male bovine, not the metaphorical use of the term.

  • Why livestock? (Score:5, Interesting)

    by ebno-10db ( 1459097 ) on Friday November 08, 2013 @08:21AM (#45366795)

    Why livestock? I find the idea of using agbots for crops interesting. A possibly far-fetched idea: no-till farming [] is great for soil preservation, and reduces the need for fertilizer. The downside is that it increases the need for herbicides to control weeds (controlling weeds is one of the main purposes of plowing). Suppose you could have a little army of agbots cutting or pulling out the weeds instead? It would also reduce the tendency of weeds to evolve into herbicide resistant forms (I doubt any weed could evolve to be immune to getting cut or pulled).

    • Re:Why livestock? (Score:4, Interesting)

      by drinkypoo ( 153816 ) <> on Friday November 08, 2013 @08:42AM (#45366887) Homepage Journal

      When you plant that intensively, weeds are already less prevalent.

      No-tilth agriculture won't be practical for mass farming until we have robots which can do the harvesting. At that point, we will also have robots which can do weeding.

    • (I doubt any weed could evolve to be immune to getting cut or pulled).

      The robot has to recognise the plant as a weed somehow, any weed which doesn't look enough like a weed, or even better looks like the desired crop won't be pulled and that will provide natural selection for the weeds to mimic other plants.

      • Re:Why livestock? (Score:4, Interesting)

        by ebno-10db ( 1459097 ) on Friday November 08, 2013 @09:36AM (#45367179)

        Good point about the evolution - kind of like those non-poisonous snakes that evolved to look like poisonous varieties. I guess we'll need smart agbots. I don't think a weed could evolve to the point where it's completely indistinguishable from the crop by a sufficiently advanced agbot. Parts of the spectrum outside of visible light (not that weeds couldn't change their coloring there, but it'd be tough to do the whole range from IR to UV), growth rate (weeds are generally opportunistic plants), position in the furrow? It sounds like an interesting challenge. Where can I get a job?

        Another from of labor intensive agriculture that agbots might be able to do is the old American Indian style of planting the "Three Sisters []" together. It works well, but is very labor intensive. It has to be done by hand - even Old World style farmers w/ draft animals found it too labor intensive.

      • Humans may cause weeds to evolve to look like desirable plants, but robots could perform a chemical analysis of the plant instead of using eyes.
      • Robots are not limited to vision systems only. I'm not sure there would be a need for any cameras on a WeedEater robot.

        Give the robot a sense of taste and instruct it to take micro samples of every plant in its path. Those that do not taste like one of the selected crops get "eaten" as weeds and the chopped up remains left behind as mulch. The robot would easily handle multi crop fields. The "Three Sisters" could be brought back to mainstream American agriculture: corn, beans, and squash all planted toget

    • Re:Why livestock? (Score:5, Informative)

      by taiwanjohn ( 103839 ) on Friday November 08, 2013 @10:12AM (#45367465)

      There's a variant of no-till called pasture cropping [] which solves some of those issues by combining livestock with row crops. The field is grazed down once, then again a few days later, before the grass has recovered. This double-punch puts the grass in a semi-dormant state, so you can plant directly into the sod. As your row crops sprout, they'll have head start on the pasture plants, eventually shading them out. (They'll still keep growing, just very slowly.) After harvest, you can graze again or mow for hay, and the pasture will recover normally.

      As for livestock, robots wouldn't be my first choice either. FTFA:

      A livestock paddock, for example, may look uniform, but under the grass there’s a great deal of variability of soil and conditions. Levels of potassium, sulfur, and acidity can be very different even within a single square meter. The main reason is that livestock don’t pee or poop in anything like a uniform pattern

      A simple solution to this is raising complementary species in managed intensive rotational grazing [] as described by "Omnivore's Dilemma" author Michael Pollan in this video (10min). [] In a nutshell: the pasture is divided into paddocks which are grazed intensively for a day or two, then rested for a few weeks. The trick is to bring poultry into the same paddock a few days after the ruminants. Chickens (for example) will go after the cow patties and kick them apart to get at the maggots inside, and in doing so, they spread the manure very effectively while also keeping the fly population down. There's no need for an expensive robot to do this job when you can have another livestock species (ie: another revenue stream) do it for free.

    • Robots cutting weeds. Weeds evolving immunity to being cut. This is what leads to.... ...ROBOTS VERSUS MEGAWEEDS!

      A new SyFy original movie.
  • We're going to need some sort of special police force to deal with runaway farm robots. And catch Gene Simmons.

    • by Anonymous Coward

      Nah, they are too small to run away on us. There is no need for a restraining bolt.

    • > Fine, until you get a runaway.

      "Jimmy? Why is the 'runaway' weed-pulling bot in your room under your bed?"

    • That's not a problem. When wintertime rolls around, the farm robots simply freeze to death.

  • The road to Hell is lined with good intentions.
  • Pot growers already way ahead of NASA. []

    NASA might as well just give up. They screwed up by laughing at us when we came to them with this tech in the first place.

"Never face facts; if you do, you'll never get up in the morning." -- Marlo Thomas