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Engineering away democrats...A Growing Presence on the Farm: Robots

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Leroy N. Soetoro

Feb 22, 2020, 4:53:24 PM2/22/20
Robots will replace illegal Mexicans in the farmlands. Robots can't
illegally vote either.

FARMER CITY, Illinois — In a research field off Highway 54 last autumn,
corn stalks shimmered in rows 40-feet deep. Girish Chowdhary, an
agricultural engineer at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign,
bent to place a small white robot at the edge of a row marked 103. The
robot, named TerraSentia, resembled a souped up version of a lawn mower,
with all-terrain wheels and a high-resolution camera on each side.

In much the same way that self-driving cars “see” their surroundings,
TerraSentia navigates a field by sending out thousands of laser pulses to
scan its environment. A few clicks on a tablet were all that were needed
to orient the robot at the start of the row before it took off, squeaking
slightly as it drove over ruts in the field.

“It’s going to measure the height of each plant,” Dr. Chowdhary said.

It would do that and more. The robot is designed to generate the most
detailed portrait possible of a field, from the size and health of the
plants, to the number and quality of ears each corn plant will produce by
the end of the season, so that agronomists can breed even better crops in
the future. In addition to plant height, TerraSentia can measure stem
diameter, leaf-area index and “stand count” — the number of live grain- or
fruit-producing plants — or all of those traits at once. And Dr. Chowdhary
is working on adding even more traits, or phenotypes, to the list with the
help of colleagues at EarthSense, a spinoff company that he created to
manufacture more robots.

Traditionally, plant breeders have measured these phenotypes by hand, and
used them to select plants with the very best characteristics for creating
hybrids. The advent of DNA sequencing has helped, enabling breeders to
isolate genes for some desirable traits, but it still takes a human to
assess whether the genes isolated from the previous generation actually
led to improvements in the next one.

A blossoming of bots
“The idea is that robots can automate the phenotyping process and make
these measurements more reliable,” Dr. Chowdhary said. In doing so, the
TerraSentia and others like it can help optimize the yield of farms far
beyond what humans alone have been able to accomplish.

Automation has always been a big part of agriculture, from the first seed
drills to modern combine harvesters. Farm equipment is now regularly
outfitted with sensors that use machine learning and robotics to identify
weeds and calculate the amount of herbicide that needs to sprayed, for
instance, or to learn to detect and pick strawberries.

Lately, smaller, more dexterous robots have emerged in droves. In 2014,
the French company Naïo released 10 prototypes of a robot named Oz that is
just three feet long and weighs roughly 300 pounds. It assembles
phenotypes of vegetable crops even as it gobbles up weeds. EcoRobotix,
based in Switzerland, makes a solar-powered robot that rapidly identifies
crops and weeds; the device resembles an end table on wheels. The
household appliance-maker Bosch has also tested a robot called BoniRob for
analyzing soil and plants.

“All of a sudden, people are starting to realize that data collection and
analysis tools developed during the 90s technology boom can be applied to
agriculture,” said George A. Kantor, a senior systems scientist at
Carnegie Mellon University, who is using his own research to develop tools
for estimating crop yields.

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The TerraSentia is among the smallest of the farmbots available today. At
12.5 inches wide and roughly the same height, the 30-pound robot fits well
between rows of various crops. It also focuses on gathering data from much
earlier in the agricultural pipeline: The research plots where plant
breeders select the varieties that ultimately make it to market.

The data collected by the TerraSentia is changing breeding from a
reactionary process into a more predictive one. Using the robot’s advanced
machine-learning skills, scientists can collate the influence of hundreds,
even thousands, of factors on a plant’s future traits, much like doctors
utilize genetic tests to understand the likelihood of a patient developing
breast cancer or Type 2 diabetes.

“Using phenotyping robots, we can identify the best-yielding plants before
they even shed pollen,” said Mike Gore, a plant biologist at Cornell
University. He added that doing so can potentially cut in half the time
needed to breed a new cultivar — a plant variety produced by selective
breeding — from roughly eight years to just four.

Sowing a niche
The demands on agriculture are rising globally. The human population is
expected to climb to 9.8 billion by 2050 and 11.2 billion by 2100,
according to the United Nations. To feed the world — with less land, fewer
resources and in the face of climate change — farmers will need to augment
their technological intelligence.

The agricultural giants are interested. Corteva, which spun off from the
merger of Dow Chemical and DuPont in 2016, has been testing the
TerraSentia in fields across the United States.

“There’s definitely a niche for this kind of robot,” said Neil Hausmann,
who oversees research and development at Corteva. “It provides
standardized, objective data that we use to make a lot of our decisions.
We use it in breeding and product advancement, in deciding which product
is the best, which ones to move forward and which ones will have the right
characteristics for growers in different parts of the country.”

Dr. Chowdhary and his colleagues hope that partnerships with big
agribusinesses and academic institutions will help subsidize the robots
for smallholder farmers. “Our goal is to eventually get the cost of the
robots under $1,000,” he said.

Farmers don’t need special expertise to operate the TerraSentia, either,
Dr. Chowdhary said. The robot is almost fully autonomous. Growers with
thousands of acres of land can have several units survey their crops, but
a farmer in a developing country with only five acres of land could use
one just as easily. The TerraSentia has already been tested in a wide
variety of fields, including corn, soybean, sorghum, cotton, wheat,
tomatoes, strawberries, citrus crops, apple orchards, almond farms and

But some experts question whether such robots will ever truly be targeted
to small farms, or a sufficiently affordable option. “For the kind of
agriculture that smallholders tend to engage in, particularly in sub-
Saharan Africa, South Asia and parts of Latin America, there are a lot of
barriers to the adoption of new technologies,” said Kyle Murphy, a policy
and agricultural development analyst at the Abdul Latif Jameel Poverty
Action Lab at M.I.T. He added that robots like the TerraSentia may be more
likely to help smallholder farmers indirectly, by promoting the
development of better or more suitable crops.

The road to improvement
Before the TerraSentia can advance crop breeding for a wide swath of
farmers, it must perfect a few more skills. Occasionally, it trips over
branches and debris on the ground, or its wheels get stuck in muddy soil,
requiring the user to walk behind the rover and right its course as
needed. “Hopefully, by next year we’ll be able to train the TerraSentia so
even more so users won’t have to be anywhere in the field,” Dr. Chowdhary

For the moment, the TerraSentia keeps a leisurely pace, less than one mile
an hour. This allows its cameras to capture slight changes in pixels to
measure the plants’ leaf-area index and recognize signs of disease. Dr.
Chowdhary and his colleagues at EarthSense are hoping that advancements in
camera technology will eventually add to the robot’s speed.

The team is also building a maintenance barn, where the TerraSentia can
dock after a long day. There, its battery can be swapped with a fully
charged one, and its wheels and sensors can be sprayed clean. But for now,
a farmer simply dumps the robot in the back of a truck, takes it home and
uploads its data to the cloud for analysis.

The main office of EarthSense, in Urbana, Illinois, is full of early
versions of robotic technology that didn’t quite pan out. Initial
prototypes of TerraSentia lacked a proper suspension system, so the robot
jumped into the air and disrupted the video streams whenever researchers
set it loose in a deeply rutted field. Another design kept melting from
the heat of the robot’s motors, until they switched plastics and added
metal shielding.

Those early, cracked chassis are now stacked on a shelf, like a museum
display: a reminder of the need for improvement, but also of the
excitement that the robot has generated.

“A lot people who tried the early prototypes still came back to us, even
after having robots that essentially broke on them all the time,” Dr.
Chowdhary said. “That’s how badly they needed these things.”

No collusion - Special Counsel Robert Swan Mueller III, March 2019.

Donald J. Trump, 304 electoral votes to 227, defeated compulsive liar in
denial Hillary Rodham Clinton on December 19th, 2016. The clown car
parade of the democrat party ran out of gas and got run over by a Trump

Congratulations President Trump. Thank you for cleaning up the disaster
of the Obama presidency.

Under Barack Obama's leadership, the United States of America became the
The World According To Garp. Obama sold out heterosexuals for Hollywood
queer liberal democrat donors.

President Trump has boosted the economy, reduced illegal immigration,
appointed dozens of judges and created jobs.

Senile loser and NAMBLA supporter Nancy Pelosi got "Trumped" on February
5, 2020. "President Trump, Not Guilty."
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