As the German government announces that they are in "industry revolution 4.0", every aspect of their manufacturing is being affected. We all know about how cars are built with robots and that books and other goods are packed using them, but now farming and food processing is getting in on the fact.
As hydroponic farming techniques continue to develop, one lettuce farm in Belgium, has started to use robots to sort, plant, and grow their plants. In a giant greenhouse, the small lettuce saplings are taken by robots from the seed trays and placed in the growing trays which are then transported to the growing area. You can see this in operation here.
Automating internal growing systems use similar machines to the ones used in other types of factories. However, automating field agriculture is now possible with a new technology called precision agriculture. Precision agriculture covers many aspects of farm management that are otherwise difficult to determine. Through the use of geolocation, farmers are able to overly details of the field and watch it on an in-vehicle GPS and from there, monitor and sample the details of the soil to ensure that nitrogen levels, temperature, and more are given to the farm management. This helps farmers with many hectares of land, determine when best to harvest their crops, and by hooking up to weather forecasts, they can plan when to harvest their produce. This information helps food growers get higher yields from their land and help to reduce future costs. It is this increased yield that encourages daily farmers to automate their systems.
Milking cows is a time consuming process, even with semi-automated processing, the farmer still had to corral the animals and then attach the milking equipment. This is a slow process and not entirely accurate as it requires the farmer to use their knowledge as to when to milk. With fully automated systems, cows can decide for themselves when they need milking and then take themselves to the milk station. There are many systems available but one of the uses radio collars to guide the cows through a series of gates; if they have already been milked, they are only allowed back into the fielding area. If they are due to be milked, they are ushered into the milking zone. Once inside the milking pen, a 3D camera is used to align the teat cups. This automation allows the cows to decide when they need to be milked and makes them calmer. You can see more about it here.
The automation of all manner of farms has long been anticipated and is slowing coming about as many machine manufacturers seek to introduce even more automation into the industry and therefore increase milk yields, reliability of crops, and so on.