within less than twenty years virtually every aspect of farming will have come under the control of computers-monitoring, analyzing, and making recommendations in every conceivable area of farm management.
A new generation of sophisticated computer-driven robots may soon replace many of the remaining manual tasks on the land, potentially transforming the modem farm into an automated outdoor fac- tory. Israel’s farmers are already well along the way to advanced robotized farming. Concerned over the potential security risks involved in employing Palestinian migrant labor, the Israelis turned to the Institute of Agricultural Engineering for help in developing mechanical farm laborers. In a growing number of kibbutzim, it is not unusual to see self-guided machines traveling on tracks laid out between rows of plants, spraying pesticides on the crops. “We tum the machines on and then go to eat lunch,” says one Israeli farmer.
The Israelis are currently experimenting with a robotic melon picker developed jointly by the Institute of Agricultural Engineering and Purdue University researchers. The robotic harvester can be used to transplant, cultivate, and harvest round or “head” crops including melons, pumpkins, cabbage, and lettuce. Named ROMPER (Robotic Melon Picker), the robot is mounted on a trailer frame and equipped with cameras that scan the rows of plants while a fan blows leaves aside “to expose hidden produce.” An on-board computer “analyzes the images, looking for a round bright spot and identifying it as the crop to be picked.” Even more impressive, the ROMPER is able to confirm whether or not the crop is ripe to pick by “smell.” Special sensors measure ethylene levels-the naturally occurring hormone that causes fruit to ripen-and can “judge” ripeness of the crop to within one day,
During harvesting season more than 30,000 Palestinians are employed by Israeli farmers. The introduction of the ROMPER and other automated machinery is going to dramatically affect their economic prospects. “If we mechanize,” says Ezra Sadan, head of the Volcani Research Center, which oversees the Institute of Agricultural Engineering, “we need to accept the fact that many Palestinians will go hungry.” 28 In the United States, Purdue University scientists say they expect to see the ROMPER in use in “every Indiana county by the end of the decade.”29 Similar R&D efforts are under way in Western Europe, where scientists hope to introduce automated robots equipped with artificial intelligence and sophisticated sensors, to plow and seed fields


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