Robotics Manufacturers Take Note: Growers Need New Solutions
In the “Farmers, draw me a robot” roundtable at World FIRA 2021, growers talk pain points, challenges and opportunities to help shape the next generation of autonomous ag tech.
When it comes to ideating, producing, implementing and using agricultural technologies, there’s often a disconnect that occurs somewhere along the way. Robotics manufacturers work overtime to develop the sophisticated solutions they imagine growers want, while producers need machines that overcome real-world problems and integrate easily into previously established workflows. The results are often disappointing on both sides—promising ag robots that ultimately miss the mark.
The “Farmers, draw me a robot” roundtable at World FIRA 2021 seeks to overcome this technological divide. Moderated by David Frabotta, editorial market development director at Meister Media Worldwide, the discussion features five farmers from around the world, each of whom will speak about their unique experiences in the field. The event is designed to give robotics manufacturers an inside look at what the market actually requires to thrive in the coming years.
“This panel discussion is intended to identify the challenges that farmers are facing and where the real opportunities might be in automating some of the tasks they have,” Frabotta says. “We’re doing something that some of the major manufacturers do. They start at the end-client level and understand what the farmers’ challenges are, so that they can create the technologies that automate certain tasks. That's really the premise of this panel: If you had to draw a robot from scratch, what would these advancing technologies address in your agronomic operation?”
The roundtable discussion will also dive into the ways that some advancing technologies have failed to deliver on their promises. One area of innovation stands out as having been particularly disappointing.
“As an industry, there is some frustration that full autonomy has not been more prolific and commercialized at a faster pace,” Frabotta says. “This speaks to the complexities of level-five autonomy and fully autonomous vehicles. I think the promise of such things have been overhyped and ultimately disappointing.”
Frabotta gives an example from the automotive industry. Tesla recently halted the rollout of its Full Self Driving beta software update. Even the name of this driving mode is somewhat facetious. Experts have described it as “enhanced cruise control” rather than a true self-driving vehicle. Frabotta notes that some overly ambitious agriculture technology companies have made similar claims then failed to deliver. While the results have been disappointing, there’s a genuine opportunity for technology companies and robotics manufacturers to improve future offerings.
“As we realize the complexities of that kind of fully autonomous technology, it forces us to examine what's really necessary,” Frabotta says. “There are always going to be tasks that are easier for farmers to manage. They don't necessarily want machines to make decisions about those things because they want to be in control.”
It’s also important to note that not all of the market’s innovations have been lackluster. Frabotta says that variable-rate technologies have been rather successful. While the fertilizer sector helped to popularize variable-rate applications, he believes that crop protection will be the next frontier for these types of technologies, particularly in situations where the inputs are costly.
“With variable rate application of any input, there's going to be a cost savings because it is site specific and not broad spectrum or broadly applied,” Frabotta says. “I do think farmers are interested in learning about those opportunities, but in this World FIRA session, the farmers can really pinpoint what they want automated. They will talk about the things that might be monopolizing their time or energy, and by managing those things, the farmers can focus on the profitability of their operations.”
At the end of the day, that ability to succeed in this industry is what connects each of the panelists, despite their many differences in location, environment, crop mix, operation size, regulatory standards and more.
“A lot of these farmers are going to be specific to orchards, vineyards, row crops, etc., but there is some commonality to what they’re all facing,” Frabotta says. “They all have export markets; they all have a need for profitability. And really, what we're talking about isn't about technology. It's about the profitability of the farm. Any way we can create a conversation that helps farmers evaluate their current and potential profit, I think that will resonate across all the different production systems.”
Those interested in attending “Farmers, draw me a robot” should mark their calendars for Wednesday, December 8, 2021, from 10:30-11:45 am. This roundtable discussion will be a part of the World FIRA 2021 event that runs from December 7-9, 2021.