(Or The Cherry Tomato-nator)
While I’m hoping to be proven spectacularly wrong here, I can’t help but hope a gardening article I recently encountered is not one of those deeply ironic signs of some ridiculously unnecessary science fiction-themed Armageddon heading our way.
By MELISSA TRUJILLO, Associated Press Writer - Fri Apr 10, 2009 11:25AM EDT
These gardeners would have green thumbs — if they had thumbs.
A class of undergraduates at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology has created a set of robots that can water, harvest and pollinate cherry tomato plants.
The small, $3,000 robots, which move through the garden on a base similar to a Roomba vacuum, are networked to the plants. When the plants indicate they need water, the robots can sprinkle them from a water pump. When the plants have a ripe tomato, the machines use their arms to pluck the fruit.
Even though robots have made few inroads into agriculture, these robots’ creators hope their technology eventually could be used by farmers to reduce the natural resources and the difficult labor needed to tend crops.
Last spring, Daniela Rus, a professor who runs the Distributed Robotics Lab at MIT, began a two-part course. In the first semester, the students learned the basics of creating and using robots. By the fall, the students were ready to have robots tackle a real-world problem. Rus and Nikolaus Correll, a postdoctoral assistant in Rus’ lab, challenged the students to create a “distributed robotic garden” by the end of the semester.