Search This Blog

Thursday, June 21, 2007

Agricultural Robots

Update: It was great to make Wired magazine, but now Instapundit has linked to the article too. Now Vision Robotics has really hit the big time!

In case you're curious (how could you not be?), a recent Wired Magazine article (Farms Fund Robots to Replace Migrant Fruit Pickers) describes some of my company's handiwork in the area of robots for agriculture. As I write this, the article actually headlines on the main page.

The title is rather silly. The farms aren't funding the robots (they don't exist yet), the farms are funding us (Vision Robotics). The primary reason for the funding is to get their fruit picked, not to replace the migrant workers. Other than that, for a random magazine article, it's surprisingly accurate.

In the past, I've almost never posted about robotics and artificial intelligence, my main two areas of expertise. After all, why write about something you know about? I find it much more fun to write about topics about which I am clueless (or semi-clueless).

That's going to change soon. I'm about to start a series of essays (next month) on how to use Artificial Intelligence techniques to make millions in the stock market. No really! I'm not kidding! You'll see!


Susan's Husband said...

If you've got anybody there from the CMU Robotics Institute, they might know SWIPIAW, who did her graduate work at CMU and hung out with a lot of the robotics students.

Bret said...

We're mostly an MIT shop, but we did have a CMU guy for a while. He left. I imagine he probably didn't know her as SWIPIAW though? He was probably also way too young to have known her anyway.

Oroborous said...

From the Wired article: "The United Farm Workers' leaders say they aren't worried about the robots, because they don't believe the machines will ever be able to do the job as well as people."


Dream on. The only long-term advantage people have over robots in the ag field is a willingness to work cheaper than mechanization will cost, but that's moot if they don't show up.

Duck said...

$6 million to get the machine ready for production seems pretty cheap.

The thing about union leaders is that it's all about their power and not the welfare of the people who work for them. As the article pointed out, the growers are funding this out of a shortage of workers, not a desire to break the unions. A shortage can only mean that the laborers are finding better opportunities elsewhere. That should make the union bosses happy that their people are moving on to bigger and better things, right? Wrong!

Add labor unions to the list of groups that will be sad to see the US illegal immigration problem go away.

Bret said...

It's only $6 million because its a low volume item that requires very little up front tooling costs. Each picking system will be several hundred thousand.

People do pick a slightly higher percentage of oranges than the robots will. However, the robots will be more consistent at handling the fruit.

The shortages are because they're finding better jobs elsewhere. That's not hard though, because picking oranges in 100+ degree heat in thorny orange trees is really crappy work.

Duck said...

Yes, but I would think that software develoment is the greater cost item. It seems cheap from that perspective.

Bret said...

A lot of the software has already been developed for other projects. Also, the growers have already given us significant funding. Of that $6M, only about $3M is for software.