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How do robotics work in permaculture?  RSS feed

 
alex Keenan
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How do robotics work in permaculture?

AI and optical systems are advancing.
Cost of robotic systems is declining and will further decline in price.

http://gizmodo.com/13-fascinating-farming-robots-that-will-feed-our-future-1683489468

A Nearly All-Robot Farm To Sprout In 2017
http://fortune.com/2016/02/01/robot-farm-lettuce-japan-2017/

MEET THE ROBOTIC WEEDERS
http://www.popsci.com/blog-network/our-modern-plagues/meet-robotic-weeders


The automated weeding machine before you may be the most efficient weeder in history. It can work all day. It destroys two weeds a second. And, it never goes on strike (unless it breaks down).
About the size of a compact car, the BoniRob is being developed by Deepfield Robotics, a startup owned by Bosch in Germany. It knows where it is in a field from satellite positioning and lidar measurements. It destroys weeds by poking them deep into the ground. And it has an 80% accuracy rate (so far).
 
Steven Kovacs
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Robots need significant inputs (the robots themselves, electricity, spare parts, etc.) and work best in geometrically planted, monoculture situations. Given that, I have trouble seeing them have much of a role in permaculture.

Drones could be useful for site survey and monitoring on larger sites, though.
 
Seva Tokarev
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With attached sensors, it can actually smell where cows peed


Someone recently wanted just that, for soil amendment.
 
Tyler Ludens
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Maybe someone can explain how the robots fit into the design and ethical system of permaculture? How DO robots work in permaculture?
 
Seva Tokarev
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Tyler Ludens wrote:Maybe someone can explain how the robots fit into the design and ethical system of permaculture? How DO robots work in permaculture?


Computers do fit in, at least for communications, otherwise we wouldn't be participating in this forum. What is a robot if not a computer with specialized software and peripheral devices?

I dream about building an automated aquaponic system; not exactly robotics, but there would be microcontrollers monitoring things like ammonia levels and turning pumps on and off.
Robots are better at doing routine things than humans; the simpler the better though, from my prospective.
 
Tyler Ludens
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Saying they fit in is not explaining how they fit in. How does a robot fit into the ethics and principles of permaculture? How does it fit into an integrated biological design?

 
Tyler Ludens
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Here's a permaculture robot idea my husband came up with - a robotic imprinter which trundles along in degraded desolate lands, utilizing photovoltaic and GPS technology to imprint the land on contour for large-scale restoration where it would be very uncomfortable for humans to work. There are vast areas of degraded agricultural lands in the American Southwest where this kind of robot could come in very handy. The basic technology has already been invented and used elsewhere (like on Mars). It would only take construction and programming of the actual robots to get this show on the road. This robot would fit under the First Ethic: Care of the Earth. All components could be designed to be recyclable.

Article about imprinting: http://permaculturenews.org/2012/09/19/imprinting-soils-creating-instant-edge-for-large-scale-revegetation-of-barren-lands/
 
Steven Kovacs
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Tyler Ludens wrote:Here's a permaculture robot idea my husband came up with - a robotic imprinter which trundles along in degraded desolate lands, utilizing photovoltaic and GPS technology to imprint the land on contour for large-scale restoration where it would be very uncomfortable for humans to work. There are vast areas of degraded agricultural lands in the American Southwest where this kind of robot could come in very handy. The basic technology has already been invented and used elsewhere (like on Mars). It would only take construction and programming of the actual robots to get this show on the road. This robot would fit under the First Ethic: Care of the Earth. All components could be designed to be recyclable.

Article about imprinting: http://permaculturenews.org/2012/09/19/imprinting-soils-creating-instant-edge-for-large-scale-revegetation-of-barren-lands/


That is brilliant! I can definitely see robots being useful there.
 
Tyler Ludens
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My husband calls it a robot for terraforming Earth.

 
Steven Kovacs
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Tyler Ludens wrote:My husband calls it a robot for terraforming Earth.



Imagine an army of solar-powered imprinters (possibly with seed scatterers built in) rumbling across the Sahel. How much carbon could we suck up by turning it to grassland?

Seriously, this is really brilliant. I know some robotics folks, some climate change activists, and some international development types I could pitch the idea to. Is your husband interested in following up on the idea?
 
Tyler Ludens
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He is deeply interested in this idea, and would love for it to come to fruition.

Adding a seed-scattering function would be boss! Especially if they are native seeds.

 
Steven Kovacs
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Tyler Ludens wrote:He is deeply interested in this idea, and would love for it to come to fruition.

Adding a seed-scattering function would be boss! Especially if they are native seeds.



Fantastic!

I need to find the time (ha ha) to really look into the imprinting tech and the results of the trials, but I really do think there is potential here. I'd love to hear more from him - please have him drop me a Moosage (or send one to me yourself) so we can talk offline.
 
Tyler Ludens
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More about imprinting: http://imprinting.org/
 
Tyler Miller
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I think robots have the potential to do a lot of good.

I’m imaging a very wide robot with very high clearance and many arms and sensors. It could roll along over the top of annuals and bushes and alongside bigger trees. It could simultaneously harvest, plant, mechanically weed, test the soil, spot water, apply foliar amendments to individual plants, mechanically kill pests, spread compost and mulch, dig micro-swales, update an incredibly detailed map and make plans for the future.

Would it be as fast at harvesting monoculture grain as a modern combine? No, but it would be able to operate in a complex, three dimensional, organic, no-till polyculture environment. It would also likely operate as fast as several humans, and it would be able to work day and night without getting tired. This could mean both lower labor costs and lower input costs, and could make produce raised organically in a polyculture the cheapest food on the store shelves.
If robots can provide people with healthy, inexpensive food that is grown in a way that is less destructive to the environment than our current conventional agriculture then that seems like care of the earth and care of people to me. Robots as capable as what I was describing before aren’t yet available or affordable, but I imagine they will be in the next decade or two.

Even if such robots are developed there is a good chance they will just be a transitional technology that will eventually fall out of widespread use. It seems likely that such a robot would take a lot of energy to make, so it seems like our being able to use them long-term would be dependent on us developing clean energy.

If we do figure out a sustainable way to produce and maintain such robots, there is the question of automation replacing human labor. Most of the people I know are afraid of things like self-driving cars, and worry about people losing their jobs to robots. I’m much more optimistic. The way it should work (which is not necessarily the way it will work) is that automation should free up people from boring, repetitive and dangerous jobs to do more creative things. We’ll have less delivery drivers and shelf stockers, and more musicians and authors. Everything will get cheaper, and people will have more free time to do as they please. Again, this is how it theoretically should work, not how it will necessarily play out in the real world.

I think the more interesting question is what will humans do when robots are better writers, better psychologists, better musicians, just plain better at everything and humans don’t “need” to do anything at all? I’m not overly worried about it. A job is just a means to an end, and most people I know don’t really enjoy their job. I’m excited about a future where humans can more or less do what they want, and I think what people will want to do is permaculture.

People could end up hooking themselves up to a machine that keeps their body alive indefinitely and is wired up to stimulate the pleasure center of their brain to keep them in a constant state of euphoria. I don’t think most people will opt to do that. I think that most people will spend their time working on personal achievement and finding meaning in their own lives. For many people, quite possibly most people, I think this will mean working with their own hands to produce what they need to survive, and doing so in a community with other people and in a way that is relatively harmonious with the rest of nature. In other words, permaculture.

Sorry this post got so long. I enjoy thinking about this stuff. If you can’t tell, I’m a bit of a techno-optimist. I acknowledge that I could be very wrong about how things are going to turn out. If the future works out poorly for humanity we will NEED permaculture. If things work out well for humanity we will WANT permaculture. Either way, I think permaculture is the answer.
 
Zach Muller
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We as humans could use robotics in a big way, that improved the environment and repaired our damage. But robotics is an extremely high energy focus, and is being developed mostly in the military-industrial direction. Even terraforming Mars for human use is a place where there is potential for development in the direction of environmental influence, but is still centered around defense. These controls, in my opinion, make it unlikely that robotics would endure a low energy period like civilized collapse. Even mechanical systems relying on compressed air will be not feasible.
One notable feature of permaculture as I understand is that the energy needs remain low for the sake of resilience. Utilizing tech appropriately is a theme and I'm unsure of the research and development allowance considering the payback is fully invested in a high energy present.

Robotics is a bit like advanced composites. Could they be used in permaculture? Yes. Will they be used to meaningful extent? Probably not.

We need to do the math on how much energy a machine shop would consume making the robot parts, how many programmers and computer components are needed to program the machine? Upkeep?
 
alex Keenan
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Much talk of robots on this thread assumes row crops.
However, there is research in using robots in difficult to get to areas.
I see this work as something that would fit in permaculture where either labor cost is high, or terrain is not good for manual labor.

Farms tend to conjure up images of flat prairies crammed with corn, but a surprising amount of farmland is situated on hillsides that are difficult to get to or maintain. To help keep these high fields clear for livestock, UK-based technology firm Ibex Automation is starting fully autonomous field trials in England's Peak District of its extreme mobility agricultural robot that can maneuver around steep dairy and sheep pastures as it identifies and destroys weeds.

http://www.gizmag.com/ibex-robot-farm-extreme-terrain/41971/
 
Tyler Ludens
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Totally not permacultural: " Ibex sees an autonomous robot farmer as a cheaper and safer alternative that could not only make tending existing upland farms easier, but also open previously inaccessible areas to livestock and cultivation."

Zone 5 fail.

"What is proposed herein is that we have no right, or any ethical justification, for clearing land or using wilderness while we tread over lawns, create erosion, and use land inefficiently. Our responsibility is to put our house in order. Should we do so, there will never be any need to destroy wilderness. Indeed, most farmers can become stewards of forest and wildlife, as they will have to become in any downturn in the energy economy. Unethical energy use is what is destroying distant resources for short-term use." Mollison, Permaculture a Designers Manual
 
alex Keenan
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Totally not permacultural:

ok, so would using a drone to drop seed balls in hard to get to areas be in line with permaculture?
 
Zach Muller
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Just for the record, where would humans need to drop seed balls via drone?

I am going through inaccessible areas in my mind and dropping the seeds is not the particularly desirable or difficult aspect.

A seed ball shooter would probably be more fun and simple anyhow.
 
Jason Silberschneider
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Zach Muller wrote:Just for the record, where would humans need to drop seed balls via drone?


A large area completely taken over by lantana, or prickly pear, or some other invasive that makes it very difficult or painful to be accessed by foot. You drop in the medium term legume trees and long term overstory canopy trees in seedballs. Then you step back and wait.
 
John Wolfram
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The way I see it, the second ethic of Permaculuture is "care of people" and currently the labor costs associated with growing food in a polyculture make that food too expensive for many people to afford. I can envision that one day robotic labor will drive down the price of polyculture food to the point that everyone is eating it, and that would be "care of people" in my opinion.
 
Tyler Ludens
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I'm not sure we need robots to make polyculture food more affordable - I think we need to plant more polycultures, pretty much all over the place, so that polyculture food is free. This would eliminate a lot of the expensive middle steps, including expensive robots.

 
alex Keenan
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Zach Muller wrote:Just for the record, where would humans need to drop seed balls via drone?

I am going through inaccessible areas in my mind and dropping the seeds is not the particularly desirable or difficult aspect.

A seed ball shooter would probably be more fun and simple anyhow.


Thailand Creating Forests By Dropping Millions Of Trees Out Of Aircraft
http://www.naturalblaze.com/2016/06/thailand-creating-forests-by-dropping-millions-of-trees-out-of-aircraft.html

As the song says, "You may be right / I may be crazy / But it just may be a lunatic you're looking for!"
 
Sebastian Köln
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I do see a use of robotics in transportation and as a tool to structure the earth without compacting it.

The transportation is probably obvious:
- flying robots (airplanes, multicopters, helicopters)
- autonomous ships are already there
- rail based robots (the easiest of all)

I doubt that robotic cars will have a future (we can't sustain the streets without cheap oil) and driving on dirt isn't very energy efficient.

One type robot that already exists, but has not found wide use yet, are hexapods and octopods (ants and spiders).
They can be very energy efficient on rough terrain, remain stable when shut down and can be equipped with big feed to spread their weight.
With an AI, they could be trained to step between plants.

I don't like the idea of using robots for weeding. Weeds provide a lot of information about the soil and ripping them out without observing the plants doesn't fit in my view of permaculture.
Integrating animals seems more appropriate to me. (They also reproduce! And are probably less expensive to buy and maintain.)
 
Alec Muller
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I'm interested in drones for data collection, and VERY interested in software for analysis and design assistance:

1) Imagine a camera-equipped 15g quadrotor (they already exist and will only get cheaper and higher-resolution) and software for your computer to fly it around and survey your site. Not just the topography, but also the plants. The current software for recognizing plants using machine vision isn't polished yet, but it works (sometimes), and many people outside of permaculture are going to keep making it better regardless of whether we use it.

2) Imagine software that uses the site survey data to build a 3D model that includes plants (including how healthy and mature they appear to be) and topography.

3) Now imagine software that helps permaculture designers plan out their development efforts: plant this polyculture here, turn these low-value trees into wood chips there, run this number of chickens over this area, move this dirt to make swales or a pond here, get these off-site inputs of compost and woodchips to kick-start the initial growth, etc. The same software simulates what everything will look like in 2, 5, or 10 years. An app for a phone or a paper printout guides you through installing it. It could even estimate how much time it will take based on the types of tools you use (i.e. shovel vs. excavator) and how many people.

4) Imagine sending the drone out weekly to update the survey and collect data on the polycultures you've installed. How are the plants doing? Do they appear healthy? Are they putting on biomass faster or slower than expected? What can the software infer about your soil, daylight, and hydrological conditions from the growth of these plants?

5) Imagine sharing this polyculture data (the layout, the follow-up survey data, etc) in a file format that other people running this software can use. You've developed a bad-ass perennial polyculture in eastern Europe, and I see from your data and other people's data that it works in the northeastern US, so I import it into my site model and install a copy of it in real life.

6) Data scientists use software to crunch all this shared data and suggest new polycultures that are better-tuned for each micro-climate.

If we had these kinds of robot-data-collection and analysis software available to us, we'd make our own physical efforts far more productive, even if we're still doing everything by hand.
 
Alec Muller
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Survey-robots with the right software would also be useful for rotational grazing. Surveying every few days to make detailed estimates of the biomass in each pasture would tell you how quickly your animals are grazing down the current pasture, and how quickly previously-grazed ones are recovering. This data would take most of the guesswork out of deciding when to move the animals and where to move them. If the software sees an overall decrease in edible biomass (i.e. the previously-grazed areas aren't recovering fast enough for the current level of grazing), then it would give you early warning so you'd have time to sell animals or provide supplemental feed to prevent extensive degradation or malnourished animals.

The data would give you year-over-year measurements of how much forage you've built up, which helps you decide how many animals to run each year.

Again, people could share and crunch survey data over a large number of farms to make it easier to identify better combinations of forage and cash crops.
 
Jason Silberschneider
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After your rotocopter has finished the topographic and vegetative survey of the property, a deceptively simple algorithm can then "permaculturalise" the entire map with swales, keyline dams, sills, potential house sites, etc all worked around existing vegetation and rock outcrops.

The client can then review the map and make any adjustments they want, choose their preferred house site, specify any existing trees they want left or removed, and so forth.

Once finalised, the map can be uploaded to the GPS and laser controlled robotic bulldozers and excavators, which then fire up and begin "permaculturalising" the site while the humans go off for cup of tea. If any of the robots runs into an unexpected obstacle such as shallow granite bedrock or a bottomless sinkhole, it will stop and send an alarm to the consultant who can attend and assess.

Technology such as this is the norm on current day mine sites. Dump truck "drivers" sit in offices in Perth, each in control of several massive dump trucks on a minesite hundreds of kilometres away. Onboard radars will detect an obstacle the size of a cat, causing the truck to stop and send an alarm for onsite staff to attend and investigate. Of course, mine sites use this technology for the complete opposite goal of permaculture.
 
Alec Muller
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Jason Silberschneider wrote:Technology such as this is the norm on current day mine sites. Dump truck "drivers" sit in offices in Perth, each in control of several massive dump trucks on a minesite hundreds of kilometres away. Onboard radars will detect an obstacle the size of a cat, causing the truck to stop and send an alarm for onsite staff to attend and investigate. Of course, mine sites use this technology for the complete opposite goal of permaculture.


Hacking technology invented for destruction and using it for creation - I love it.
 
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