Robots drive efficiencies in European agriculture

Robots will make many farm tasks less dangerous and unhealthy, and will improve the overall safety of workers — that is according to the European Parliament’s science and technology options assessment panel.

They can also be a big factor in the large decline in the number of people, in particular youths, who are involved in agriculture.

For example, since 1990 in the Netherlands the percentage of people employed in agriculture has plummeted from 30% to 2.6%.

Young people could be attracted back into the sector by improving the daily quality of life with technical systems where networked computers and robots interact with the physical world — or cyber-physical systems (CPS), as they are known.

However, it is acknowledged that job losses will also inevitably occur with the further implementation of CPS in agriculture, as they replace low and semi-skilled labour. CPS will be able to effectively replace human counterparts, according to the European Parliament’s panel.

Yet, despite this, it is expected that an equal number of new roles, requiring different skills, will emerge, such as agricultural robot engineers.

With the introduction of more autonomous machines working alongside humans, we need to keep in mind that questions of responsibility will arise, according to the panel.

“In agriculture, if any harm should come to animals, plants or even humans — as a result of CPS [robots] — who will be at fault and who will be held accountable?”

The panel sees robots increasing safety in food production, by more accurately testing for diseases and the freshness of products, thus minimising risks for consumers.

Increased use of autonomous machines in food production will reduce the risk of contamination from humans.

CPS can help the environment too, for example by reducing the size of the machines currently used in agriculture, reducing soil compaction in turn. Precision farming via CPS will further help the environment through reduction of energy, water and fertiliser usage, helping to reduce emissions.

Vital data gathered by CPS, such as drones, sensors and other farming machines, will be beneficial, for example in checking the health of plants so that pesticide use can be better targeted.


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