Smart agriculture is gaining traction in Japan, offering a glimmer of hope for producers grappling with a severe shortage of manpower. The advent of artificial intelligence (AI) equipped robots developed by innovative startups is transforming the future of cultivating and harvesting agricultural products, with large-scale greenhouse farmers at the forefront of this technological shift.
In a groundbreaking move, a four-wheeled AI robot calmly navigated through the verdant green leaves of a plastic greenhouse in Hanyu, Saitama Prefecture. Its mission? To meticulously gather only the ripest cucumbers. Takeshi Yoshida, head of the farm named Takamiya No Aisai, expressed initial concerns about the robot accidentally severing cucumber stems. However, the robot’s accurate movements defied expectations, inspiring confidence in its potential amidst the labor scarcity. With the aid of a camera and AI technology, the robot swiftly determined the appropriateness of each crop for harvesting.
The robot, developed by the startup Agrist Inc., was leased by Takamiya No Aisai, making the farm the first of its kind to utilize such advanced technology. By capturing images through the camera mounted on the robot, the system analyzes the cucumber sizes, expertly identifying the ripe ones and delicately severing one to three spheres every two minutes. These cucumbers are carefully placed in a case, demonstrating the robot’s precise arm positioning to prevent any damage to the stems.
Agrist harbors hope that this initiative’s success will encourage other farms to adopt similar automated systems. Inaho Inc., an agricultural venture company based in Kanagawa Prefecture, has already leased an AI-equipped robot to a farm in the Netherlands, allowing automated picking of ripe cherry tomatoes. The AI system analyzes images and selects tomatoes that are ripe and easy to pick. In order to streamline the entire process, Inaho’s robot selectively harvests approximately 40 percent of matured tomatoes during the night, leaving the remaining fruits for human harvesting during the daytime.
Soya Oyama, Chief Operating Officer at Inaho, is optimistic about the current capabilities of AI-powered robots in supporting farms with labor shortages. He emphasizes that although complete robotic harvesting is still a work in progress, the existing technology provides sufficient assistance to agricultural operations. Inaho plans to extend its reach globally, starting with the agri-food powerhouse, the Netherlands.
According to Takanori Fukao, a robotics professor at the University of Tokyo, Japan is on the cusp of a farming revolution. He foresees the integration of harvesting robots in open-field cultivation, building on the success witnessed in greenhouse environments. He advises that farms need to strategically plan crop placement in advance to realize the full potential of these robots. As smart agriculture continues to evolve, the potential benefits for the industry are immense.
Frequently Asked Questions
Q: What is smart agriculture?
A: Smart agriculture refers to the application of digital technologies, such as artificial intelligence, robotics, and data analytics, in enhancing various aspects of agriculture and farming processes.
Q: How are AI-powered robots revolutionizing agriculture in Japan?
A: AI-powered robots are being employed by Japanese farmers to automate labor-intensive tasks such as cultivating and harvesting crops. These advanced robots use AI algorithms and cameras to analyze and identify ripe produce, leading to improved efficiency and productivity.
Q: How are the robots leased by farms in Japan?
A: Startups like Agrist Inc. and Inaho Inc. lease AI-equipped robots to farms in Japan. The robots are equipped with sophisticated technology, including cameras and AI systems, to aid in crop identification and harvesting. Farms can lease these robots to alleviate labor shortages and improve productivity.
Q: Are these robots capable of harvesting all types of crops?
A: While current AI-powered robots excel in specific tasks such as cucumber and tomato harvesting, there are ongoing efforts to expand their capabilities to other crops. The development and deployment of robots for different crops will require further research and technological advancements.
Q: What is the future of smart agriculture in Japan?
A: Experts believe that the adoption of AI-powered robots in agriculture will continue to grow. It is expected that the use of robots and other advanced technologies will extend beyond greenhouse cultivation to open-field farming. To fully harness the potential of robotics, farms will need to strategically plan crop placement and implement appropriate infrastructure.