The farms of the future may well be like factories

A new report has indicated that massive changes will be coming to the agricultural markets within the next ten years, perhaps most notably farming, courtesy of various advances in robotics and drones.

The report, by IDTechEx Research, highlights how these technologies will enter into different aspects of agriculture, transforming the methods behind farming and having a significant impact on the workforce in the process.

Probably the largest change coming to farming is the mass-scale automation that looks to be employed across various aspects of the industry.

While current farms are by no means stuck using purely antiquated methods – there are already thousands of robotic milking parlours across the world, for example – there are large sections of the work that are still reliant on human workers.

This is due to both the fact that many robots are not currently smart enough to perform crucial tasks and regulatory measures; as with autonomous technologies in general there is considerable legislation involved in approving their usage.

farming-top-down

However, it seems that in the next ten years we can expect to see ever-smarter robots taking over those roles that we previously had set aside for humans.

Notably, these technologies will not only be independently advancing the farming processes, but can contribute to elements of each other’s roles.

In the air, for example, both remote-controlled and autonomous drones will map the farms below them. That’s data that can then be used to better guide the small robots that will be navigating among crops, analysing the plants and removing weeds.

These robots will then learn their routes the more they are deployed to better navigate themselves.

farming-drone

On a broad scale then, we can see that farming is set to radically change in the next few years as more and more of the jobs that have been traditionally limited to human workers are taken over by autonomous robots. It appears that agriculture is set to join the other industries that will rely on workforces transforming into engineers for the robots that are automating their former roles.

In the fields and in the sky, farming will be essentially run by a series of robotic workers capable of working autonomously just as soon as they are set to the job. Arguably, within the next ten years, we will see farmers transition from oversight of their crops and cattle to oversight of a vast fleet of robots and drones handling the daily work.

Visiting these farms, you won’t be looking at groups of workers assigned to do their various, individual duties but sections of robots discreetly trundling among crops, aided by drones overhead with their mapping while, in the background, tractors steer themselves around their duties.

We can predict that the drone will be the focal point, the farmer’s point of view that then sees a robotic workforce set to their various duties then left to run their processes automatically, occasionally put back on course by a fruit picker-turned-engineer.

3D food printers head for mass production

By the end of the year, 3D food printers will be in people’s homes for the first time, with the first thought to be produced by Natural Machines.

While a few companies have been working on the technology, Natural Machine’s Foodini looks to be the first in an oncoming wave of mass production in 3D food printing.

The Foodini machine is an open capsule model, in which the user places fresh ingredients and then tells the Foodini what to make with them. For example, rather than hand making ravioli from start to finish, you just load the dough and filling into the machine and it will print individual ravioli for you.

3D printed burgers made using a Foodini 3D food printer

3D printed burgers made using a Foodini 3D food printer

The notion behind the machine, and where it fits into average household usage, is to encourage better eating.

According to the Natural Machines website: “Today, too many people eat too much convenience foods, processed foods, packaged foods, or pre-made meals – many with ingredients that are unidentifiable to the common consumer, versus homemade, healthy foods and snacks. But there is the problem of people not having enough time to make homemade foods from scratch.

“Enter Foodini. Foodini is a kitchen appliance that takes on the difficult parts of making food that is hard or time-consuming to make fully by hand. By 3D printing food, you automate some of the assembly or finishing steps of home cooking, thus making it easier to create freshly made meals and snacks.”  

The notion of replacing the hand crafting process of cooking with 3D printing may well seem a strange one, perhaps raising concerns of a reduction of people’s skill and effort. While it is certainly a better option than potentially more suspect ready meals, there is an element to which the idea of machines like the Foodini may detract from the craft of cooking.

However, although it allows those who would not usually be in a position to hand make ravioli to enjoy food they would otherwise not, it may also make it too easy for those who are able to make said food to simply not bother.  

The Foodini 3D food printer. Images courtesy of Natural Machines

The Foodini 3D food printer. Images courtesy of Natural Machines

The worries of excess convenience aside, it is reassuring to see a focus on homemade food and quality eating. And with 3D printing ever developing, a future where we use it to manufacture our meals as well as our homes is perhaps not so far-fetched. As to when you should expect this, it is hard to say.

The Foodini currently sells at $4,000, somewhat above what the average consumer can be expected to spend. Yet if successful, a growing market could see the price steadily come down to the point where, in the future, we may expect every home to utilise 3D printing as a regular part of their cooking.

Natural Machines’ device will be initially released by the end of the year, but the next production batch will not be available until some time in 2017. So if you wish to be a part of the first wave of home 3D food printing, place your order quickly.