How Robotics and Digital Data Will Change the Future of Agriculture

The history of agriculture is one of constant evolution and a fair share of ground-breaking revolutions. Domesticated animals, employed to do some of the back-breaking work formerly done by farmers themselves, were replaced by tractors about a hundred years ago. A result of the Industrial Revolution, the mechanisation of agriculture along with new farming methods and fertilisers, took efficiency and yields to unprecedented heights. But facing the immense challenge of today – sustainably feeding 7 billion people worldwide, and an estimated 2 billion more by the middle of the century – it has become clear that agricultural innovation needs to move forward faster than ever. The sector is already changing rapidly with new technologies, drones, sensors and big data analytics being used not only by large-scale industrial operations, but also by small family farms all over the world. And whether it is about herding cattle, plucking orchards or surveying crops, there is also a new type of farmer on the rise: autonomous robots. Salah Sukkarieh, the Director of Research and Innovation at the Australian Centre for Field Robotics, is engineering self-driving farmbots, data-collecting drones and cow-herding robo-ranchers with the goal of delivering sustainable agriculture to its next evolutionary, and maybe even revolutionary, level. At Falling Walls, Salah shows how the smart farms of the future will help with tackling one of the largest challenges of humanity: sustainably feeding the planet.

Salah Sukkarieh is a Professor of Robotics and Intelligent Systems and head of the Australian Centre for Field Robotics at University of Sydney. He is an international expert in the emerging field of agricultural robotics, autonomous systems that can operate in outdoor environments and provide support with crop and livestock farming. With his group, he designs self-driving farmbots and autonomous drones that collect and analyse data and perform automated tasks in the field, increasing efficiency and crop yield, and pioneering the way to the future of farming.

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