Shanghai’s unmanned farm pilot starts harvest


A variety of unmanned vehicles, instead of farmers, are busy harvesting rice ears in a field in the outskirts of Shanghai.

This 300 mu (20 hectares) rice field in Waigang Township, Jiading District, is Shanghai’s first unmanned farm pilot.

Agricultural vehicles equipped with China’s BeiDou Navigation Satellite System (BDS) shuttle between a warehouse and the field, automatically avoiding obstacles in their way to carry out harvesting.

Shanghai piloted the farm in 2020 using unmanned agricultural machinery for plowing, sowing, field management and harvesting.

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This farming robot zaps weeds with precision lasers

A new robot from Carbon Robotics can kill 100,000 weeds in an hour while keeping a farm organic.

Earlier this year, on a farm in southern New Mexico, a new kind of worker spent each day traveling slowly up and down the rows and rows of crops. On board, its 12 high-res cameras pointed at the ground, sending data to an artificial intelligence system that can nearly instantly identify plants. When the system detects a weed, a laser flashes, killing it.

“I think this will be the biggest revolution in weed killers in agriculture,” says James Johnson, the fourth-generation farmer who runs the farm that tested the robot and has two production models on order for delivery this fall. The tech is now poised to expand thanks to a startup called Carbon Robotics, which announced today that it has secured a $27 million Series B financing round.

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Unstung Heroes: Startup’s AI-Powered Tomato Pollinator Gives Bees a Break

Arugga AI Farming Ltd. Company founders Eytan Heller (left) and Iddo Geltner (right) at top. 


There are nearly a half million acres of greenhouse tomato crops in the world, an area about 35 times the size of Manhattan. In other words, lots of tomatoes.

Growing them requires more than soil, water and sunlight. The plants are self-pollinating, but they need a little help getting the pollen to drop onto the female organ of the flower and trigger the process.

Typically, this is the job of bumblebees, which knock the pollen loose with the vibrations created by their beating flight muscles.

That, however, could change thanks to Israel-based startup Arugga. The company builds AI-powered robots that use computer vision to determine which flowers are ready for pollination and then blast air pulses at them to mimic the action of bumblebees and initiate pollination.

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How AI, smart sensors, and lettuce-picking robots are transforming agriculture on this ‘hands-free’ farm

It cost $20 million to set up, according to ABC News.Getty Images

  • An Australian farm is now fully automated and “hands-free.”
  • On the farm, artificial intelligence, robots, and smart sensors do the farming.
  • The 1,900-hectare farm will demonstrate how tech can make the industry more productive and efficient.

Technological innovation isn’t just spreading to smart cities, intelligent buildings, or new hybrid work models; robots are also revolutionizing agriculture with artificial intelligence, autonomous tractors, sensors that monitor crops in real time, drones, or fruit and vegetable-harvesting robots.

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Tiny, needle-like sensors inserted into plants are the latest addition to precision agriculture

Using microneedles, a technology borrowed from medicine, researchers mine real-time data to make farming hyper-efficient—and more sustainable

By Emma Bryce

What if we could closely track the health of plants, the way we use a monitor to track a human heartbeat? Researchers have moved us closer to this goal, with a new type of microsensor that can be inserted into the leaves and stems of crops to directly monitor information about their health and productivity. 

This is one of the most recent innovations to come out of precision agriculture, a field of research and technological development that aims to gather as much data as possible on the optimal growing conditions for plants – typically using technologies like soil sensors and camera-fitted drones. Gathering this information could increase the efficiency of fertilizer and water to cut back on waste, pollution, and emissions. By finding out exactly what crops need, precision agriculture could also increase yields, which would have the added benefit of maximising land use and limiting agricultural expansion — one of the biggest threats to wild habitat, and a contributor to climate change. 

The researchers on the new study think their newly-developed sensors — tiny, needle-like structures made of polymers, which are inserted into plants — could be a powerful addition to the precision agriculture toolbox. 

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The next agricultural revolution is coming.

AGRICULTURE’S IMPACT ON THE PLANET is massive and relentless. Roughly 40 percent of the Earth’s suitable land surface is used for cropland and grazing. The number of domestic animals far outweighs the remaining wild populations. Every day, more primary forest falls against a tide of crops and pasture, and each year an area as large as the United Kingdom is lost. If humanity is to have a hope of addressing climate change, we must reimagine farming.

Covid-19 has also exposed weaknesses with current food systems. Agricultural scientists have known for decades that farm labor can be exploitative and hard, so it should surprise no one that farm owners had trouble importing labor to keep farms running as they struggled to ensure food workers stay free from the virus.

Similarly, “just enough, just in time” food supply chains are efficient but offer little redundancy. And pushing farmland into the wilds connects humans with reservoirs of viruses that — when they enter the human population — prove devastating.

To address these challenges, new technologies promise a greener approach to food production and focus on more plant-based, year-round, local and intensive production. Done right, three technologies — vertical, cellular, and precision agriculture — can remake the relationship between land and food.


Here’s what happened when AI and humans met in a strawberry-growing contest

Do they really need a human touch? 

By Victoria Masterson

  • In Pinduoduo’s Smart Agriculture Competition, four technology teams competed with traditional farmers over four months to grow strawberries.
  • Data analysis, intelligent sensors and greenhouse automation helped the scientists win.
  • Fourth Industrial Revolution technologies such as AI are forecast to deliver huge productivity gains – but need the right governance, according to the Global Technology Governance Report 2021.

Strawberries can be easy to grow – especially, it seems, if you’re an algorithm.

When farmers in China competed to grow the fruit with technology including machine learning and artificial intelligence, the machines won, by some margin.

Data scientists produced 196% more strawberries by weight on average compared with traditional farmers.

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Self-watering soil could transform farming


Researchers planted radishes in this miniature greenhouse using their self-watering soil and compared it to sandy soil found in dry regions of the world.

A new type of soil created by engineers at The University of Texas at Austin can pull water from the air and distribute it to plants, potentially expanding the map of farmable land around the globe to previously inhospitable places and reducing water use in agriculture at a time of growing droughts.

As published in ACS Materials Letters, the team’s atmospheric water irrigation system uses super-moisture-absorbent gels to capture water from the air. When the soil is heated to a certain temperature, the gels release the water, making it available to plants. When the soil distributes water, some of it goes back into the air, increasing humidity and making it easier to continue the harvesting cycle.

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Alphabet’s Mineral moonshot wants to help farmers with robotic plant buggies


The tech could lead to more sustainable farming practices.

 In 2018, Alphabet’s X lab said it was in the process of exploring how it could use artificial intelligence to improve farming. On Monday, X announced that its “computational agriculture” project is called Mineral. The Mineral team has spent the last several years “developing and testing a range of software and hardware prototypes based on breakthroughs in artificial intelligence, simulation, sensors, robotics and more.”

One of the tools that has come out of the project is a robotic plant buggy. Powered by solar panels, the machine makes its way across a farmer’s field, examining every plant it passes along the way with an array of cameras and sensors. In conjunction with satellite, weather and soil data, Mineral says the buggy and its AI software can identify patterns and give farmers insights into their crops.

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Groundbreaking for a one-of-a-kind hemp processing plant in Fort Benton


FORT BENTON — Thursday was a big day in Fort Benton as the mayor, a U.S. senator, and hemp farmers broke ground on a new facility – the first of its kind in the nation.

 Employees of the industrial hemp company IND HEMP were joined by Fort Benton Mayor Rick Morris and Democratic U.S. Senator Jon Tester for the ceremony, which marked the opening of the nation’s first scaled hemp decortication and fiber processing plant. The Chouteau County town, with around 1,500 residents, gained national attention for the opening event.

“Stuff like this just doesn’t come along for rural Montana,” said Morris. “It’s a big deal for Fort Benton.”

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Tiny weed-killing robots could make pesticides obsolete


This swarm of robots may herald a chemical-free food revolution

The fleet of Greenfield Robotics weedbots ready and waiting for beta test trials. Photos courtesy of Greenfield Robotics.

Clint Brauer’s farm outside of Cheney, Kansas, could be described as Old MacDonald’s Farm plus robots. Along with 5,500 square feet of vegetable-growing greenhouses, classes teaching local families to grow their food, a herd of 105 sheep, and Warren G—a banana-eating llama named after the rapper—is a fleet of ten, 140-pound, battery-operated robots.

Brauer, the co-founder of Greenfield Robotics, grew up a farm kid. He left for the big city tech and digital world, but eventually made his way back to the family farm. Now, it’s the R&D headquarters for the Greenfield Robotics team, plus a working farm.

When Brauer returned to his agricultural roots, he did so with a purpose: to prove that food could be grown without harmful chemicals and by embracing soil- and planet-friendly practices. He did just that, becoming one of the premier farmers growing vegetables in Kansas without pesticides, selling to local markets, grocery store chains, and chefs.

But it wasn’t enough to make the difference Brauer was hoping for. Sure, he was growing a lot of environmentally friendly, pesticide-free vegetables. But a few acres in chemical-free vegetable production was nothing compared to miles and miles of broadacre, arable farmland that make up the majority of America’s agricultural lands.

Brauer was especially intrigued by no-till solutions for soil health. No-till is exactly what it sounds like: farming without using techniques like plowing and cultivation, which “disturb” the soil to kill weeds. Many U.S. farmers, especially those in America’s heartland of corn, soy, and wheat production, have already switched to or are looking to embrace no-till practices. Over 104 million acres were farmed no-till in 2017, an increase of 8% since 2012. Just over 900 million acres, including no-till land, were farmed in the United States in 2017, according to the 2017 Census of Agriculture.

But parking machinery to improve soil health often comes with a trade that didn’t sit well with Brauer: dependence on chemical weed control. No-till works to improve soil health, but the trade-off in chemical use is not much better for the environment than conventional farming. Regardless of the type of farming, the problem is the same.

“You got to start with weeds. It’s the number one thing that farmers are fighting,” Brauer says.

That’s where the robots come in.

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Could we be farming rather than mining metals in the future?


Surface of Seabed Manganese Nodule from South Korea

 There are trillions of potato-sized metal nodules on the floor of the ocean around the world.

Some of these nodules are being explored for economic potential. A major vote by a UN body on the commercial exploitation of these minerals is planned in October 2020 (postponed from July 2020).

However, the formation of these metallic nodules is radically different from the processes used to create such metals on land i.e., they are biological in origin rather the geological.

This has profound implications for what the true value of life around these metallic nodules could be.

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