The future of organic farming, robots and mobile devices
Posted on Jan 29, 2013 by Charles Weir
Here’s a brief digression from my core subject of mobile phone security to another use of mobile technology … I live on an organic smallholding. I don't work it myself, but I've seen something of the economics of delivering organic food. And they’re not pretty.
Organic food eschews chemicals including most kinds of fertiliser. The revolution in traditional farming in the twentieth century with the introduction of pesticides and herbicides was partly that it dispensed with the labour-intensive techniques in weeding and pest-removal that had been needed before. Organic farming restores that need, and so requires enormous amounts of expensive human labour. And thus as labour costs increase, organic farming will get correspondingly more and more expensive.
But there is a glimmer of hope in future: Robots. Scientists in California have invented a robot that can weed lettuces. Currently weeding lettuces is done by hand, and it's a very labour-intensive operation. The machine, predicts the pundits, will revolutionise that.
And if lettuces, why not other crops: weeds in grass, control of tractors, whatever. Indeed organic farming isn’t the only long term beneficiary: In the long run I predict that it will be cheaper and more efficient to run robots than some of the current approaches involving energy-intensive chemicals (herbicides and pesticides). And robot behaviour can be made as complex as imagination will allow.
Robots are unlikely to do much for disease, except in the way of creating firebreaks, and removing diseased elements. But they can replace the very expensive human labour with mechanical labour, which is capital intensive but cheap to run. It's the future.
And how does mobile come into this? Control units are increasingly run by the same processes and connected devices as we use for mobile phones. Many of Penrillian’s more successful projects have actually used phone functionality to provide services elsewhere, rather than straight through the screen. Mobile devices are what will make the robotics manageable and controllable.
Which in turn will give us cheaper and better food.