It may not be right around the corner, but students and professors at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology believe that, eventually, the grunt work of farming - human beings operating today's farm equipment - will give way to a more precision form of agriculture.
At MIT's Computer Science and Artificial Intelligence Laboratory, postdoctoral assistant Nikolaus Correll and Professor Daniela Rus are experimenting with swarm robotics in an effort to create a fully automated greenhouse.
The researchers hope to develop a self-regulating greenhouse with robots, pots and plants connected via computation, sensing and communication. Robots with robotic arms and a watering pump irrigate the plants, which themselves are equipped with soil sensing, networking, and computation.
These networked plants can request water or nutrients and keep track of their conditions, while robots are able to pick ripe tomatoes and pollinate the plants. As the field of robotics has developed greater complexity, experiments like this one at MIT are demonstrating how communication between the robots leads to greater cooperation.
The system, which Rus refers to as precision agriculture, should allow for a great reduction in resources consumed in the growing cycle, the scientists report.