COVID-19 ISO Insights

Use of Robotics on Farms May be Poised to Increase

July 20, 2020

By: David Geller, CPCU, SCLA

From rampant outbreaks among farmers to significant disruptions in the distribution process, U.S. farms have hardly been immune to the impacts of COVID-19.

And it appears that some of these fragilities, in part, are compelling farmers to identify a technological opportunity to make their outputs more resilient and efficient: robotics.

Axios has reported on one startup that is assisting with the removal of weeds, especially from farms that grow specialty crops such as lettuce. The handling of weeds has historically been completed through manual labor, and/or the use of herbicides that may consist of chemicals with toxic characteristics (see our Substances and Materials Topic Page for our previous posts on issues involving herbicides, such as dicamba and Roundup).

However, the emergence of viable robots to complete these tasks may present a new option for removing weeds, as well as various other tasks that need to be completed on a farm. The startup profiled in the Axios piece consists of the following features:

  • The use of cameras and machine vision to create a 3D map of the farm plot. This enables the robots to distinguish weeds from commercial plants.
  • The robots can autonomously navigate through fields and destroy the weeds they detect with retractable hoes.
  • Eventually, the startup hopes that their capabilities will include the ability to collect information on temperature, humidity, and soil salinity to bolster precision of farming in a more automated fashion.

Even prior to the COVID-19 outbreak, momentum was building for the use of robotics on farms, as evidenced in a February 2020 report from the New York Times. The improvements in the technology, increased affordability, and the looming deployment of 5G (check out our 5G page here) that can enable a host of technological innovations all appear to be converging to usher in a wave of robotics. All COVID-19 may have done is serve to accelerate this trend.

Related Post:
What Could the Future of Food Production and Distribution Look Like? – June 2020