Thursday, June 29, 2006

Robots Shunned By Many Farmers

According to an article in the online edition of the Florida newspaper Florida farmers would like to get robots to help in their harvest but thr robots just can't compete with people.

Only ten percent of Florida's crops are harvested by automatic machines even though a shortage of farm workers is trying to drive the numbers higher.

It turns out that there is more to harvesting some fruits than just shaking the trees. Oranges, for example, have both ripe and immature fruits on the same branch. A picker must be able to tell the difference.

A recent innovation may be to dump 300 gallons per acre of a chemical called CMNP on the orange trees to make the ripe fruit fall off easily without harming the young fruits. That way an automatic tree-shaker could grab only the good stuff. However, the chemical approach has not been approved yet. And maybe there could be some unintended consequences?

But there are many more crops that machines cannot pick.
"We don't mechanically harvest tomatoes, peppers, strawberries, watermelon, cantaloupe, eggplant or cucumbers," Phyllis Gilreath, a Manatee County, Florida extension agent said. "Cabbage is even handpicked.

This year, according to the article, the county has had a severe shortage of farm workers and interest in robot farm workers is growing.
It is hoped that universities can play a major role in finding robot solutions for more farm problems. Maybe ideas from contests like the recent Field Robot competition in Germany can be extended from harvesting golf balls to harvesting strawberries.

Bradenton Herald | 06/29/2006 | Farms seek scientific future



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