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.

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Juno mission: Jupiter’s magnetic field is even weirder than expected

It has long been known that Jupiter has the most intense magnetic field in the solar system, but the first round of results from NASA’s Juno mission has revealed that it is far stronger and more misshapen than scientists predicted.

Announcing the findings of the spacecraft’s first data-collection pass, which saw Juno fly within 2,600 miles (4,200km) of Jupiter on 27th August 2016, NASA mission scientists revealed that the planet far surpassed the expectations of models.

Measuring Jupiter’s magnetosphere using Juno’s magnetometer investigation (MAG) tool, they found that the planet’s magnetic field is even stronger than models predicted, at 7.766 Gaus: 10 times stronger than the strongest fields on Earth.

Furthermore, it is far more irregular in shape, prompting a re-think about how it could be generated.

“Juno is giving us a view of the magnetic field close to Jupiter that we’ve never had before,” said Jack Connerney, Juno deputy principal investigator and magnetic field investigation lead at NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Maryland.

“Already we see that the magnetic field looks lumpy: it is stronger in some places and weaker in others.

An enhanced colour view of Jupiter’s south pole. Image courtesy of NASA/JPL-Caltech/SwRI/MSSS/Gabriel Fiset. Featured image courtesy of NASA/SWRI/MSSS/Gerald Eichstädt/Seán Doran

At present, scientists cannot say for certain why or how Jupiter’s magnetic field is so peculiar, but they do already have a theory: that the field is not generated from the planet’s core, but in a layer closer to its surface.

“This uneven distribution suggests that the field might be generated by dynamo action closer to the surface, above the layer of metallic hydrogen,” said Connerney.

However, with many more flybys planned, the scientists will considerable opportunities to learn more about this phenomenon, and more accurately pinpoint the bizarre magnetic field’s cause.

“Every flyby we execute gets us closer to determining where and how Jupiter’s dynamo works,” added Connerney.

With each flyby, which occurs every 53 days, the scientists are treated to a 6MB haul of newly collected information, which takes around 1.5 days to transfer back to Earth.

“Every 53 days, we go screaming by Jupiter, get doused by a fire hose of Jovian science, and there is always something new,” said Scott Bolton, Juno principal investigator from the Southwest Research Institute in San Antonio.

A newly released image of Jupiter’s stormy south pole. Image courtesy of NASA/JPL-Caltech/SwRI/MSSS/Betsy Asher Hall/Gervasio Robles

An unexpected magnetic field was not the only surprise from the first data haul. The mission also provided a first-look at Jupiter’s poles, which are unexpectedly covered in swirling, densely clustered storms the size of Earth.

“We’re puzzled as to how they could be formed, how stable the configuration is, and why Jupiter’s north pole doesn’t look like the south pole,” said Bolton. “We’re questioning whether this is a dynamic system, and are we seeing just one stage, and over the next year, we’re going to watch it disappear, or is this a stable configuration and these storms are circulating around one another?”

Juno’s Microwave Radiometer (MWR) also threw up some surprises, with some of the planet’s belts appearing to penetrate down to its surface, while others seem to evolve into other structures. It’s a curious phenomenon, and one which the scientists hope to better explore on future flybys.

“On our next flyby on July 11, we will fly directly over one of the most iconic features in the entire solar system – one that every school kid knows – Jupiter’s Great Red Spot,” said Bolton.

“If anybody is going to get to the bottom of what is going on below those mammoth swirling crimson cloud tops, it’s Juno and her cloud-piercing science instruments.”