CIOs Go Looking For Robots To Use On The Farm

In the future, berry farming will be done by robots
In the future, berry farming will be done by robots
Image Credit: Beholder99

One does not often think about farming and CIOs in the same thought. However, it turns out that the way that food is being grown and harvested is in the process of undergoing a radical transformation. Technology is being applied to the fields where our food is grown and how best to apply that technology is something that CIOs are being asked to determine. What this means for the average CIO is that they’ve got some learning to do about how food gets from the field to our tables.

How Food Gets Grown Today

It turns out that in the U.S., consumers really seem to like their berries. In fact, they like their berries so much that each year the average American consumes roughly 8 pounds of the things. This amount is twice as much as Americans used to consume only 15 years ago. This increased demand by consumers is causing a problem: there is a labor shortage in the farming industry. This shortage is not going to be going away anytime soon. The result of this is that berries that could be sold, may end up not getting picked and may end up rotting in the fields. All of this means that farm CIOs need to make sure that they understand the importance of information technology.

CIOs who work for the large farming companies believe that technology may be the answer to this problem. Automation could help farmers pick their specialty crops such as apples, berries, peaches and tomatoes. Technology has already been applied to farming in the form of sophisticated combines that help farmers to harvest grain crops. Automation has already been applied to farms in order to create bins that run on tracks inside of greenhouses which carry harvested crops back to a central point. This reduces the amount of walking that berry harvesters have to do.

There are unique problems presented by specialty crops. Unlike manufacturing where everything is the same each and every time, agricultural fields can pose a real problem when the person with the CIO job tries to automate the harvesting process. One of the biggest problems is that vegetables and fruits simply don’t grow in uniform sizes – sometimes they are big and sometimes they are small. The person in the CIO position also has to deal with the fact that these food products do not all ripen at the same time. Just to make things a bit more difficult, where the food product is located on the vine or tree may not always be easy for a picking machine to get to. This is why specialty crops are so much harder to harvest than commodity crops like wheat.

Changes To The Way That We Farm

The good news for farm CIOs is that this problem is being dealt with. There are a number of startup companies that are in the process of developing picking machines that will be able to both move autonomously and be able to deal with delicate food items. However, the problem is that all of the products that these firms are working on are probably a number of years away from being ready to be deployed in fields. These firms are still busy trying to make their products able to move faster, be more mobile, and have the ability to deal with unpredictable tasks in a reliable manner.

A big problem that still needs to be solved in the fields is that the robots that are being deployed in the fields are not able to see fruit that is behind leaves. Additionally, these robots are not able to reach behind a tree limb without causing harm to either themselves or to the fruit that they are trying to get. When it comes to fruits such as apples, strawberries, and peaches both of these issues can be a big deal. Just to make things a bit tougher, lighting conditions can often make it hard for robots to see the fruit that they are trying to harvest.

The problems with today’s robots are being dealt with. Researchers are improving the quality of the sensors that the robots are using. The goal is to allow the robots to do a better job of understanding the environment that they are in and do a better job of navigating. Additionally, the intelligence of the crop robots is being improved by collecting more data about the crops that they will be harvesting. At the same time, the crops themselves are being altered in order to make it easier for the robots to harvest them. These changes have a number of challenges associated with them including coming up with new ways to think about how crops are grown and how humans and robots can interact to harvest crops.

What All Of This Means For You

Most of us don’t spend a lot of time thinking about how food makes it from the farm to our tables, but CIOs who work for the large farming companies spend a great deal of time thinking about this. The challenges that they are facing are that people are demanding more and more food at the same time that there is a labor shortage in the fields. What this means is that it is going to be up to the farm CIOs to come up with ways to apply automation to the farm in order to become more efficient at harvesting crops.

The labor shortage in the fields means that some fruit may not get picked and could end up rotting on the vine. Technology has already been applied to farms in order to automate the process of harvesting commodity foods. Some automation has been applied to greenhouses to reduce the amount of walking that workers have to do. Fruits present a number of unique problems based on their size, when they are ready to be harvested, and where they are located on the vine or tree. A number of start-up firms are working on creating robots that will be able to harvest fruit. However, these products are number of years away from being available. The products are being made better with improved sensors and better data. However, how crops are grown and how people work with robots will still need to change in the future.

Farm CIOs understand that they need to make changes. The future for them contains robots that can harvest fruits. However, those robots are not yet ready to be deployed into the fields. These CIOs are going to have to work with the firms that are creating the next generation of farm robots and make sure that when they do show up, they’ll be able to deal with all of the challenges that harvesting fruit presents.

– Dr. Jim Anderson Blue Elephant Consulting –
Your Source For Real World IT Department Leadership Skills™

Question For You: Do you think that robots will ever be able to harvest fruits without any human help?

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What We’ll Be Talking About Next Time

CIOs who are excited about their jobs and who are ambitious often like to act like they know everything. This kind of behavior becomes very visible to everyone that they work with. As they move on in their career, these CIOs often start to realize that, despite the importance of information technology, just how little they actually did know. Acting this way can be a severe career limiter for CIOs. What we need to do is to understand what it looks like when we are acting like a know-it-all and what we can do to stop this kind of behavior.