Japan's Robot Farmers Could Save the Tsunami Disaster Zone
A satellite map reveals flood water left behind on farmland by the tsunami that killed 19,000 people in Japan on March 11, 2011.
Japan's mega disaster earthquake and tsunami killed thousands of people and left once-fertile farmland ravaged by salt, oil and even fallout from the damaged Fukushima nuclear plant. Now the island nation wants to deploy robot farmers to help revitalize the land in a new "Dream Project."
Robot tractors would not only clean up, plant and harvest the fields, but also box up crops such as rice, wheat, soybeans, fruits and vegetables, according to Agence-France Presse (AFP). The first robots would first work on a 600-acre site located in the Miyagi prefecture about 200 miles north of Tokyo.
The AFP news service cited Japan's Nikkei newspaper in describing a $52-million plan launched by the agricultural ministry and continuing over the next six years. Japanese companies such as Panasonic, Fujitsu, Hitachi, Sharp and others are also expected to contribute funds to bring the budget up to almost $130 million.
Fully-automatic robot farmers have crept close to reality in recent years. Robotics researchers at the National Agricultural Research Center in Tsukuba, Japan have already experimented with rice-planting robots. And American farmers already ride semi-automatic tractors that use GPS positioning to plant perfect rows of wheat.
Another possible robot farmer design comes from David Dorhout, founder of Dorhout R&D. His five-legged "Prospero" robot farmer can scuttle around in autonomous swarms capable of detecting ideal planting spots, digging holes, planting the seeds and then applying fertilizer or herbicides.
Such robotic workers could eventually help rehabilitate the 59,300 acres of farmland ruined by Japan's triple-threat disaster that began in March 2011.
But this goes far beyond a random experiment sponsored by the Japanese agricultural ministry. Such robots represent part of the new robotic revolution in agriculture that could farm crops for food and fuel, and would join the hundreds of thousands of robots already hard at work in U.S., Asian and European factories.