Farming robots may hold a promise of a cleaner and safer agricultural future. Potential downsides may arise from the loss of much-needed jobs to the safety of those working alongside the robots. Therefore, a process of responsible development is required.
In the project called Robot Highways, multiple uses for autonomous robots made by Saga Robotics are currently demonstrated on a fruit farm in south-east England. Robots are now treating plant diseases in fields and glasshouses, and will be mapping terrain, picking, packing, and providing logistical support to workers over the course of the project. This is achieved by attaching different tools to an autonomous “base robot.”
This way, autonomous farming robots have the potential to do some of the laborious agricultural work for which farmers in some countries often struggle to find employees at a cost that keeps food prices competitive. Our project has produced an estimate that robots may eventually help reduce the number of human farm workers needed by up to 40%.
At the same time, robots could help create new jobs. The UK’s National Farmers’ Union argues that increasing use of digital technologies in farms will attract younger, skilled people to a sector struggling with an aging workforce.
There could be environmental benefits as well. Swapping traditional, fossil fuel-powered farm machinery for electric robots charged from renewable sources will cut farming’s carbon emissions.