Robot tractors, mini drones and real-time data: leading futurist presents the farming of tomorrow

The farms of the future will be managed from futuristic command centres where farmers can dispatch mini drones and robot tractors in response to real-time information, according to Canadian futurist Richard Worzel.

Speaking at BASF Canada’s Knowledge Harvest, a major event for farmers in North America, Worzel outlined an image of farming where a computerised butler would present data about moisture and temperature and enable the farmer to respond accordingly.

He described how farmers would be able to use robot tractors to plant seeds, which would make precision planting in response to soil conditions easy and effective.


Swarms of mini drones would be used to scout crops at low heights, providing readings on condition and growth rate, and digitally-generated maps would provide precise information about where to apply fertilizer and pesticides.

The future could even be organic: natural predators such as ladybugs could be dispatched in response to imminently-hatching pests.

Speaking ahead of the event, Worzak said: “The prospects for farms and farmers are probably better than they have been for fifty years or more.”

The technology Worzak describes could have a significant impact on crop yield, which is vital in a world where population growth is quickly outstripping food supply.

“Information technologies are going to allow farmers to do more with less: fewer inputs, better costs, higher yields,” Worzak explained.

Changes in technology elsewhere could also have an impact on what farmers are growing.

“Traditionally farmers have made their money off of three primary food sources,” Worzak said, referring to the “three fs” of farming: food, feed and fibre.

“Now technology is adding three additional sources,” he explained, outlining how many farmers will increasingly be growing crops for fuel, pseudo-plastics and pharmaceuticals.

There is considerable ongoing research across a host of industries about the use of plants in these areas, and it is likely that they will be increasingly used ahead of oil-based or chemically-derived products.

This could be bad news for consumers, though: farmers are likely to opt for whatever sells for the most, which means there could be a shortage of some food products if growing plastics turns out to pay more.

Farming is an area seeing huge growth in technological solutions. Genetically modified crops that are tailored to resist pests or have higher yields have been used for years in some areas of the world, and hydroponic and aquaponic solutions are increasingly being used in regions where space is at a premium.

Farming machinery is also going high tech. In 2011 Tractor manufacturers Valtra created a concept for their tractor of the future (pictured above and in the video). Named ANTS, it features a video game-style heads-up display, a modular design and the ability to work autonomously on basic tasks.

With farming drones in development and significant amounts being thrown into farm analytics, Worzel’s view of the farming future could be here before long.

Featured image courtesy of Valtra.

A rollable iPad could be closer than you think

Scientists have created the technology that will allow roll-up tablets, bendy mobile phones and digital paper to move out of sci-fi films and onto the high street.

Researchers at the University of Surrey, UK, have invented a simple circuit component that makes the rollable technology possible.

Potential uses for the technology – other than roll-up gadgets such as iPhones and iPads – include prediction sensors that can be used on buildings in regions at a high risk of natural disasters and ultra-thin smart plasters that can wirelessly monitor the health of the wearer.

The team worked with scientists from electronics company Philips to develop the Source-Gated-Transistor (SGT) that puts the electric current under control as it enters a semiconductor. This decreases the odds of the electronic circuit malfunctioning.


Flexible technology isn’t exactly new; bendable mobile phones have been a much talked about concept for a while now and are already beginning to infiltrate the market with Samsung’s Galaxy Round coming out towards the end of last year.

However, devices that can be completely rolled-up may offer more alternatives and flexibility for users.

Large design documents and blueprints could be stored on digital displays and unravelled when being shown to clients, and the technology could pave the way for a new generation of wearable smartphones that are shaped to fit the wrist.

It could also lead offer some solutions for the dying printed newspaper industry by allowing readers to download copies onto a thin, paper-like sheet that they can roll-up and put into their back pocket.

“We could see the next generation of gadgets become mainstream much quicker than we thought”

Lead researcher of the project Dr Radu Sporea, from the University of Surrey, said the work could make manufacture of roll-up screens much cheaper,  while not making the design process any harder.

“These technologies involve thin plastic sheets of electronic circuits, similar to sheets of paper, but embedded with smart technologies.

“Until now, such technologies could only be produced reliably in small quantities, and that confined them to the research lab. However, with SGTs we have shown we can achieve some characteristics needed to make these technologies viable, without increasing the complexity or cost of the design.”

He added: “By making these incredible devices less complex and implicitly very affordable, we could see the next generation of gadgets become mainstream much quicker than we thought.”

The researchers had previously found that the SGT component could be applied to many electronic designs of an analog nature and also digital display screens. Their latest work shows that the SGTs can also be applied to next-generation digital circuits.

Professor Ravi Silva, a co-author of the work, said: “Whilst SGTs can be applied to mainstream materials such as silicon, used widely in the production of current consumer devices, it is the potential to apply them to new materials such graphene that makes this research so crucial.”

Featured image courtesy of RDECOM / Flickr under creative commons licence.