Artificially intelligent food systems: how it affects the American agriculture industry

Bowling Green, Kentucky (March 24, 2022) — We don’t often think of technology and connectivity as having a particularly profound impact on the food and agricultural products that we consume. However, connectivity and technology both have increasingly essential roles in producing, delivering, and preparing these products.

One of the more impactful uses of technology in agriculture comes in the form of John Deere’s new, fully autonomous 8R tractor. Recently introduced at tech’s biggest show, the Consumer Electronics Show, it was undoubtedly a bit of a departure on the show floor from new mobile devices, laptops, computers, and even the newest infotainment systems for cars. 

Shiny green paint might catch your attention, but it becomes exciting when you realize what that tractor can do. The 8R can operate in the field without an operator, and can be controlled remotely to stop or begin operations.

John Deere 8R tractor. Photo via John Deere

While autopilot has been a feature on many tractors for years, it still required an operator to be in the cab and take over to make a turn at the ends of rows, or if there was any kind of obstacle. The 8R tractor has several cameras that constantly relay information to an artificial intelligence (AI) system, indicating whether the tractor should continue moving or stop. This AI system continuously monitors and adjusts for obstacles, and eliminates the need for a human operator in the field.

This technology innovation means that when there’s a labor shortage in nearly every industry, including agriculture, there’s a potential solution when an operator can’t be found. Using remote control through an app, a farmer can set the tractor into operation while doing other tasks. The 8R machine needs fuel and general maintenance, but can otherwise operate endlessly. This has the potential to boost productivity significantly, as a typical machinery operator has to stop periodically for various reasons, and there’s also limited number of hours they can physically work.

The new 8R will bring undoubted changes to farming operations around the world and spark further questions about data use and ownership, as well as labor discussions.

Technology for gardening, food prep and more

The 8R can have a significant impact on the broad agricultural landscape, but what impact can technology have if you prefer to buy your food from locally sourced farmers markets or even like to grow your food? How about Farmbot? 

Farmbot operates on a CNC-based system with sensors and different implements that allow you to have a semi-autonomous garden in your backyard. Farmbot can plant, water, and monitor your plants for you. You just prep the garden bed and harvest the produce.

The system costs a few thousand dollars based on the size and options you choose, but it can be set up on a patio or backyard. For those of us who don’t have a green thumb, Farmbot can take care of many of the tasks that we often struggle with, helping to ensure that we have success in growing our own food.

And what about food prep and delivery? AI has an answer for that as well. Welcome to the automated kitchen, where robots cook your food to absolute perfection. Miso Robotics has developed a robot that operates with an almost nonstop work ethic. It doesn’t need a break, can’t get sick, and can work unlimited hours. 

While a robot isn’t likely to serve as the head chef of your favorite local restaurant, it may very well prepare your chain restaurant meal. Miso’s “Flippy 2” was recently contracted for 100 units by White Castle to prepare its iconic steam burgers.

Robots like Flippy use sensors and other tools to guage the exact weight of food products, then adjust and track times and temperatures. This innovative tech ensures a perfect result, which would be nearly impossible for humans to achieve in a fast-paced environment like a quick-service restaurant. These features allow for more consistency in the product, both at a single site and across multiple locations.

Delivery robots have also popped up recently. Delivering food via a robot is just an extension of one of the primary uses for robots in the past decade. This service is becoming increasingly technical and intelligent as robots measure, observe, and calculate routes, obstacles, and the most efficient way to deliver your food.

No technology is perfect. AI will help us find solutions to some problems, and likely create new ones that we’ve not yet thought of. It’s already sparked debate related to workforce reduction or safety concerns, but it’s also helping solve food security issues. 

Connectivity and technology are driving us into the future, whether we leverage it for new and expanded opportunities or to maintain a quality of life that we’ve grown accustomed to.

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About the Author: Wes Kerr is the Connected Nation Director of Community Solutions. Wes helps ensure the implementation of Technology Action Plans developed for communities through Connected Nation’s Connected Community Engagement Program (Connectedsm) and works closely with clients and stakeholders to provide solutions that will help them meet their technology goals.

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