Artificial Intelligence

Drone bees and agriculture robots could could solve shortage of pollinators and laborers

Israeli robotics researcher Yael Edan explains the projects that her team is working on to pollinate plants, harvest peppers, and other agriculture work.

Ben-Gurion University of the Negev has a long history of robotics research, and we caught up with the university's head of robotics, Professor Yael Edan, to learn about one fast-growing area of the university's work in robotics—agriculture.

In an interview with TechRepublic, Edan described the latest human-robot interaction and developments in agricultural sciences, led by the advances in drone bees and agricultural robots. A calibrated, intelligent sprayer can identify, specifically, both grapes and leaves and apply sprays more accurately. "That was a huge project," Edan said. "Another project we're developing, a small drone will pollinate flowers, tomato flowers."

You can watch the video interview above or read the transcript below.

SEE: IT leader's guide to deep learning (Tech Pro Research)

Edan continued, "We were involved in a previous clever robots for agriculture EUFB7 project, and we're currently involved in a horizon 20-20 sweeper, a sweet pepper harvesting-robot." They'll work with other world leaders in the field to commercialize the robot, upon the project's completion.

Said Edan, "There's a lack of bees worldwide, so plant pollination is the critical element in all the agriculture production. We're trying to develop a small [artificial] bee. Currently it's in the format of a drone. Some plants can pollinate, only if there's enough wind. Some plants need a current location of the pollination onto the flower itself, so we're dealing currently at phase one, of just creating enough wind. We need to identify where the flowers are, and the drone accompanies the wind produced, enough for pollination.

"Our primary concern is a detection of the flowers. We submitted a paper in which we detect flowers using deep learning techniques and good results sufficient for the drones to start doing their work.

"Throughout the modern world there's [also] a lack of agricultural workers. I began this work in the 1990s. I did my PhD at Purdue [University] and since then, there's [not been enough] workers willing to go into the tedious, hot, low-wage agricultural work. Agricultural automation continues and it's possible robots can do different tasks, like selective spraying or harvesting. Robots will work with humans, but won't completely replace them. The farmer won't allow that, as he wants 'the green thumb' in the loop, and he still wants to be in control.

"But, he wants and needs assistance. There's not enough workers. They're paying huge rates in the EU in order to harvest. Israel is importing people. The US imports people from Mexico. So the modern world, at least, is dealing with a lack of the traditional [agricultural workers], and the integration of robotics."

Also see

Yael Edan, Ben-Gurion University

Yael Edan, Professor at Ben-Gurion University

Image: Jason Hiner/TechRepublic

About Jason Hiner

Jason Hiner is Global Editor in Chief of TechRepublic and Global Long Form Editor of ZDNet. He's co-author of the book, Follow the Geeks.

Editor's Picks

Free Newsletters, In your Inbox