FarmBots

Robotic milkers, pickers, pruners and aerial vehicles may be coming to a farm near you … or, are they already there?

By Nancy Dorman-Hickson

Check out a few of the latest and most promising ag-related robots:

Unmanned helicopters in the field.

Unmanned helicopters in the field.

Last summer, the University of California-Davis received clearance to test an unmanned, motorcycle-size helicopter equipped to spray crops. The technology has been used on Japanese farms for two decades. Other uses: scouting, mapping and checking on livestock, pipelines, fences and crops. Drones may even be used for herding.

Automatic milkers are gaining acceptance among dairy farmers wanting to free themselves of labor-intensive milkings. The new systems essentially allow the cows to get in line when they’re ready to be milked. The robots then clean the udders and attach to the teats with the help of lasers.

In vineyards, robo-pickers and pruners, as well as bots using high-tech imagery for crop yield estimations, are being tested. One experimental strawberry harvester features 24 arms that work with an optical sensor to choose fruit by color, quality and size. The Lettuce Bot, a refrigerator-size machine that utilizes video cameras and visual recognition software, is being used to harvest fields of the leafy produce.