“The Field Robot Event is an international competition intended to promote the development of robotic systems for agriculture being held by the Engineering Department at Harper Adams University on 13 to 16 June 2017. Competitors are required to build a robot that is capable of completing a series of tasks that are typical of the type of applications field robots may be used for. This year there are four main tasks; basic navigation, advanced navigation, field mapping and crop spraying.”
“Together, robotics and regenerative agriculture can do much to drive each other's development, and to improve humankind's prospects for the future. But, of course, the near-term bottom line is that, together, they can make a more compelling case for adequate funding.”
“Let's assume, for a moment, that the vision I've laid out in this blog is ridiculously successful, and, over the next few decades, robotic devices take over all aspects of tending land and crops and handling material inputs and produce, and do it using increasingly sustainable practices that begin the process of retaining and enhancing biological diversity and reviving overworked soils. What's left for farmers to do? Will there even be a need for humans on farms?”
“It is wonderful to see such a broad-scale conversation happening about agriculture, ecosystem health, and soil carbon. Unfortunately, in all the buzz, some of the definitions of Regenerative Agriculture that have emerged do not live up to its full potential. Many focus solely on soil carbon, ignoring biodiversity, water cycles, and human wellbeing. And while soil fertility and carbon sequestration are hugely important to our planet’s capacity to grow food, they are the tip of the iceberg as far as what Regenerative Agriculture can mean and do for us.”
“On display this week at the InterDrone show in Las Vegas, the PD6B-AW-ARM is described by Prodrone as ‘the world's first dual robot arm large-format drone.’ Built around the airframe of the company's existing PD6B-AW model, it features two remotely-operated 5-axis robotic arms that can grasp, carry and release a payload of up to 10 kg (22 lb). Algorithms in its onboard software allow it retain stability as its center of gravity shifts while lifting objects.”
Abstract: “Current learning-based robot grasping approaches exploit human-labeled datasets for training the models. However, there are two problems with such a methodology: (a) since each object can be grasped in multiple ways, manually labeling grasp locations is not a trivial task; (b) human labeling is biased by semantics. In this paper, we take the leap of increasing the available training data to 40 times more than prior work, leading to a dataset size of 50K data points collected over 700 hours of robot grasping attempts. This allows us to train a Convolutional Neural Network (CNN) for the task of predicting grasp locations without severe overfitting. In our formulation, we recast the regression problem to an 18- way binary classification over image patches. We also present a multi-stage learning approach where a CNN trained in one stage is used to collect hard negatives in subsequent stages. Our experiments clearly show the benefit of using large-scale datasets (and multi-stage training) for the task of grasping. We also compare to several baselines and show state-of-the-art performance on generalization to unseen objects for grasping.”
The images, discovered by Henner while researching satellite photographs of oil fields, look like post-apocalyptic wastelands.
John Payne's insight:
Pointing the finger at "factory farming" is slightly off the mark. The problem lies with farming methods, methods which are about as likely to be practiced on a family farm as on a corporate farm, and which have pre-historical origins. To date, technology has mostly served to accelerate the damage, but technology may also provide the means to halt and begin to reverse that damage.
Promising practices for corporates, investors, and entrepreneurs to drive long-term innovation and avoid an investment bust.
John Payne's insight:
This is an irreducibly complex look at a very complex tangle of realities, involving everybody from potential corporate investors with existing ag-related businesses to protect, to sustainability-motivated entrepreneurs, to typically conservative farmers, to consumers who have been voting with their dollars for food that more closely resembles its natural state.
“This is essentially a problem in complex swarm engineering, complex because of the variety of devices involved. Solving it in a way that creates a multi-device platform capable of following rules, carrying out plans, and recognizing anomalous conditions is the all-important first step in enabling the kind of robotics that can then go one to enable scalable regenerative practices in farming (and land management in general).”
“With voice control, a farmer should be able to walk through a field, say what he wants to see, and make modifications to the plan controlling the robotic machinery that actually operates the farm, or issuing commands for execution by the first available machine.”
Using permaculture as a tool can be hugely beneficial for people to create practical ways of improving their immediate environment. Many have suggested that such a tool only works if we use the lens of permaculture to first create our own empowerment from within (see for example 1). This view can be seen indeed as underpinning much of permaculture thinking, for example, with the three permaculture ethics of “Earthcare, Peoplecare …
”[This] episode is about a future where nobody works on farms anymore, all farming is done by robots. Is it possible? Probably not. But it might be closer than you think.“
John Payne's insight:
This is an audio podcast (like a radio program you can download from the internet). To be clear, I'm not comfortable with further reducing the rural population, nor the number of people directly involved in agriculture. We've already taken that reduction too far, in my opinion. But robotics has the potential to enable vastly improved farming practices, transforming agriculture from a major contributor to our problems to being a big part of the solution.
“The bottom line is that the most successful farmers in America aren’t doubling down to max out commodity corn and soybean yields at any cost. They’re looking to upgrade existing resources on their farms (be that the crop itself, facilities, etc.) to cash in on alternative sources of income. And that’s something we should all be excited about. Why? Because more money in farmers’ pockets means more opportunities for change.”
”Within physics there is a distinct trend toward unifying and simplifying the phenomena observed. It is embodied by the work of Einstein or Newton or James Clerk Maxwell, who developed a handful of equations to explain the workings of electricity and magnetism. Simplification, even oversimplification, is often revered within the realm of physics. Biologists, as a rule, have a greater comfort with diversity and bundles of facts, even if they are left unexplained by any single sweeping theory.“
John Payne's insight:
The need for biological thinking is even more urgent when technical systems are applied to the management of biological systems, compounding artificial complication with natural complexity.
“Parrot collaborates with Canonical to launch the Parrot S.L.A.M.dunk, a new development kit for the creation of autonomous and obstacle avoidance drones and robots. Powered by Ubuntu and ROS (Robot Operating System), it gives developers a familiar environment to prototype solutions such as autonomous driving, 3D mapping, or simply using the on board stereo camera and sensors for data gathering.”
“Daniel Schmoldt completed his academic training in 1987 from the University of Wisconsin-Madison with degrees in mathematics, computer science, and forest science. The latter included completion of both Masters and Ph.D. programs. From 1987 until 2001, he held several research scientist positions with the U.S. Forest Service while conducting research in a variety of forestry areas: wildfire management, atmospheric deposition, artificial intelligence, decision support systems, ecosystem management, machine vision systems, and automation in forest products utilization. From 1997-2004, he served as Joint Editor-in-Chief for the Elsevier journal, Computers and Electronics in Agriculture, and remains on their editorial board. Since 2001, he has filled a newly created position as National Program Leader for Instrumentation and Sensors with the National Institute of Food and Agriculture, and helps to prioritize, develop, focus, and coordinate USDA research, education, and extension programs covering the development of sensors, instrumentation, and automation technologies related to precision agriculture/forestry, robotics, processing of agricultural and forest products, detection of contaminants in agricul tural products, and monitoring and management of air, soil, and water quality. His current $100M+ portfolio of grant programs include specialty crops, agroclimatology, robotics, engineering, nanotechnology, and cyber-physical systems. Finally, he currently serves as the USDA representative to several Office of Science and Technology Policy working groups on engineering and technology.”
Boris Sofman and Hanns Tappeiner of Anki - “While the applications for robotics are plentiful in theory, matching technical capabilities to real world customer needs at high reliability and practical price points is incredibly difficult, leaving behind large numbers of ambitious, but ultimately failed, attempts to apply robotics to consumer applications. In this talk we will share a bit of our journey with Anki, a company we started working on in 2008 with the goal of identifying and entering markets where robotics and AI can have a real, measurable impact in a short time frame, and then using the technologies and learnings developed for one product as building blocks for the next. We enjoyed an eventful path from our early days as three Robotics Institute PhD students working out of a Pittsburgh living room to a 150 person company (with over a dozen CMU RI grads!) with offices in San Francisco, London, Munich and Shenzhen. We will share a few of the stories and learnings along the journey through multiple product releases, four rounds of venture funding, challenges at the overlap of many disciplines, large scale mass production, and seemingly endless strings of highs and lows. Finally, we are excited to share our next product, Cozmo, a robot character that uses a deep combination of robotics, AI, game design, and animated film-style animation with the aim of bringing a physical character to life with a level of personality, emotion and interaction that has never been possible outside of a screen. This interdisciplinary approach has led us to build a small animation studio within a robotics company with a novel approach to animating physical characters, showing intense levels of attachment and emotional response in all of our early testing. Along with a look at the many years of research and development leading to this product, we will discuss why the SDK that will be released with the launch in October could unlock one of the most capable and affordable robotic platforms for research and education.”
John Payne's insight:
This presentation includes an overview of the technology used in Cozmo, but mainly focuses on the realities of building and ramping up a startup business.
”Maybe there’s a way to organize your plantings such that a machine could pass through… But a top cut on your corn is going to be complicated because stalks don’t always have a regular height. Once you’ve top cut your corn, what do you do for the beans? Perhaps another pass through with a low cut, but your bean processing will now have to deal with corn stalks. Perhaps your third pass will be your squash harvester which could finally just roll through and catch everything that’s left.”
John Payne's insight:
The primary constraint here is that imposed by the use of large, heavy, expensive equipment, that must move across the ground relatively quickly (so it's cost can be spread over a large area) to be economically reasonable.
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