Science

Published on December 4th, 2016 | by Guest

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Japan’s Robot Vegetable Farms Require New Tech Skills!

In many parts of the world, conventional farming is facing difficult times. Erratic weather patterns and crop-devouring insects both make farming challenging in their own way, but possibly the greatest threat doesn’t come from nature—but from the mass exodus of the rurally-raised youth that are seeking greener pastures in the big cities of the world.

Thankfully, there are those who envision the modern farm as that requires very few hands in order to produce nutritious food in a more efficient, environmentally friendly way.

In Japan (where space is at the utmost premium), a nearly completely automated, robotic farm was recently unveiled by Spread, a forward thinking Japanese vegetable producer. In truth, the only manual activity in the entire facility is planting seeds; everything else, including watering, trimming, replanting, and the cultivation process are left to a tireless legion of robotic arms.

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Company officials estimate that through technological innovation they’ll boost production from 21,000 heads of lettuce a day to more than 50,000 in the environmentally controlled 4400 square metre facility set to open sometime in 2017. For many, ensuring a higher yield season after season may be reason enough to transition to robotic farming, but the government of Japan has a couple of secondary objectives. The first, to replace the dwindling number of farmers that make up the country’s agricultural industry (the average age of a Japanese farmer is 66 years old), and the second, to promote an interest in farming in the youth of the country.

Of course, Japan is known as one of the undisputed technology leaders of the world, so it should come as no surprise that the solution to both of those objectives would come from leveraging technology in the farming industry, which that was comprised relatively little of it not so long ago.

What Japan has done is essentially take a sector that was facing a real labour crisis and, in addition to making a substantial stride to alleviating that crisis, created an opportunity for those with a passion for technology to work in an emerging field: robotics.

Automated farms, should they take off around the world (and there’s no reason to suspect they won’t considering that many nations are experiencing a drop in the number of young farmers) will require fewer farm hands—but their need for qualified robotics technicians will grow commensurately.

PLC programmers—the computational hub capable of coordinating thousands of robotic components simultaneously—are already widely used in the manufacturing sector, and their further implementation will create the need for even more highly trained professionals.

Interestingly, the situation in Japan is reflective of a larger issue affecting job markets all over the world—a lack of available human capital to meet growing demand in a number of different sectors. As the baby boomer generation gets older and begins to retire, they leave behind countless jobs that cannot be filled by subsequent generations simply because they lack the numbers.

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It would seem that this is, at least in part, the reason why automation in some of society’s largest sectors has become so appealing—out of a need to address impending labour shortages.

Food production is arguably one of the industries that will see the most benefit (in the short term at least) from a robotic workforce—and the reasons aren’t all tied to maximizing profits for shareholders.

Hunger and famine are a common, everyday occurrence for an unreasonable number of the earth’s inhabitants, so it stands to reason that fully automated facilities capable of producing more food per square foot than a conventional farm, food that is pesticide and chemical-free, food that will enhance the quality of life for millions, is a worthy goal indeed.

Obviously, farming is just one of many possible industries those trained to become robotics technicians can venture into; in truth, the possibilities at this point seem endless. For that reason, academic institutions like George Brown College, who offer certificate of completion in many technology-related programs, are positioning themselves to be an essential resource for the job market of the not-too-distant future.

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