News that Google's parent company has developed prototype farming robots should come as no great surprise. But that a company the size of Alphabet is entering the farm robot race is exciting news.
Autonomous machines are a key part of the "Fourth Agricultural Revolution" predicted by many (including Michael Gove when he was the Secretary of State at the 2019 Oxford Farming Conference). The revolution has technology at its core along with the use of AI, big data and better environmental practice that promise a productive and sustainable future for farming. In the UK we already have companies like the Small Robot Company whose "farmbots" will automate drilling and fertilising and control weeds without the use of chemicals. They hope to be selling robots to farmers in 2022.
Elsewhere the Hands Free Hectare project at Harper Adams has given an impressive glimpse (admittedly, in the first season at least, a wonderfully Heath Robinson glimpse ) of what is possible. Now working on a larger Hands Free Farm the project takes conventional machines and adapts them to run autonomously.
The big tractor manufacturers are also producing concept autonomous tractors although safety remains a challenge.
There are still many unknowns not least the economics of farm robots and whether their use will be limited to those farms lucky enough to have a 5G connection. But for all that the clever money (and that includes Alphabet's money) suggests we will be seeing farm robots in only a few years.
Google's parent company, Alphabet, has unveiled prototype robots that can inspect individual plants in a field, to help farmers improve crop yields.