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Automated Agriculture & Extending Plant Consciousness Through Technology
Within another article, we pointed out a few resources that show how it is possible to make scientific equipment with recycled materials and to create a thriving garden with fewer inputs.
We also briefly noted that much of the starvation that occurs throughout the world is not actually caused from a lack of available food, but from inefficiency in how that food is distributed.
One way of remedying this situation is to use that knowledge to integrate recycling programs with food production on the local level. This will reduce pollution and waste, while simultaneously handling the problem of distribution of food, all on a low budget.
In other words, let's use the materials acquired from recycling to help build machinery that will allow for fully-automated agriculture!...What kind of machinery should we build then?
The Core Components
Rory Aronson has come up with an open-source project called "FarmBot". Essentially, it is a computer-controlled device attached to a track that can plant seeds, water them, etc. It is similar to things like "3-D printers" and "CNC machines" that use a computer to tell a tool where to move and what to do with great precision.
It is a beautiful system that can be easily extended. Here, we would like to offer a few ideas on how this might be done:
• The Plant-Controlled Computer Network
Plants can sense many things. Therefore, instead of relying on human input to the computer, a system can be designed where plants interface with the computer directly. For example, plants release chemicals (e.g.: "tannins") and produce electrical pulses in response to their environment. This is known as the "electrophysiology" of the plant.
These signals can be used to actuate various devices around the plants that care for them automatically. For example, the plant reads that it is getting too much sun? A shade attached to the surrounding track rolls out to shield them. The plant reads that it needs more water? Irrigation systems start and stop in response to the moisture readings of the surrounding air and soil.
In tandem with weather data, the conditions that will allow for optimal growth can always be provided for without a human having to set anything. As with most automated systems, humans only have to regularly observe them to make that sure that they are functioning properly, and periodically maintenance them to keep them from failing.
• "Pest"-Removal With Machine Learning
"Machine Learning" (or "ML" for short) is when a computer is used to generate a process for accomplishing a particular task by giving it a lot of data to work with, instead of a person writing out the instructions step-by-step (i.e.: "coding" or "programming").
ML is often used for "facial recognition". For example, given a lot of photos, ML can be "trained" to recognize which of these photos are pictures of faces. We can use the same proces on wildlife photography to get a computer to recognize the "pests" associated with specific types of plants.
These programs can be run on a small microcomputer in a weather-proof container. Motion sensors could activate outdoor cameras connected to this computer, and if the ML recognizes something approaching that would harm the plants, it uses the irrigation system like a "water gun" to scare them away whenever necessary.
• Weeding & Harvesting With "The Claw"
The same type of system that is used for recognizing "pests" can also be used to recognize weeds or when a plant is ripe.
A claw-like apparatus, similar to that within a "crane game", can then pick weeds when they are first forming or gather the parts of plants that are ready for harvest. "The claw chooses who will go and who will stay." ☺
If these sorts of tools are used within the context of a greenhouse, it can be set up to produce food year-around. And if the internal environment is well-regulated, then it should be possible to grow things that are not native to that climate. Therefore, gourmet ingredients do not have to be imported from other locations.
Transportation and cosmetic standards seem to be some of the biggest culprits when it comes to pollution and waste. The above approach removes the need for transporting food, but what about the other issue? This can only be resolved by individual discernment.
Standards are useful, but we must carefully differentiate between those that are necessary for safety and those which are simply cosmetic. Food doesn't have to look beautiful in order to be delicious and nutritious!
Working with a manufacturer of larger equipment (such as tractors, buses, planes, etc.), this system could easily be scaled to any size plot of land. However, on a small scale, all of it can be made by:
• Smelting / molding / cutting / welding scrap metal and plastic into machine parts
• Scavenging electronic components from "e-waste" to build the control mechanisms
If absolutely necessary, whatever cannot be used directly can be sold off to acquire whatever is needed.
Food For All
Our goal is to make sure that everyone is fed with the minimum amount of effort and expense. There is no lack of resources or knowledge, and these plans can serve everyone if they are not undermined by greed or apathy.
In general, it seems within humanity's best interest to move our food and utilties away from centralized control (by power-hungry individuals within government and corporations) as much as possible. This is not an issue of politics or economics, but one of safety: A "single point of failure" is dangerous for everyone. For example, if the power grid goes out, that includes all of the medical equipment that is running off of it.
To make our agriculture impervious to these risks, the above mentioned devices can run with the resources which make the most sense for that area (e.g.: solar panels, windmills, water wheels, tidal generators, geothermal power plants, etc.). In the same way that it does not make any sense to transport food to places where it can be easily grown, it does not make any sense to transmit power to places where it can be easily generated. Always try to produce things wherever they are needed and in the ways that work best with that specific environment.
Decentralized distribution of food can be done through the support of local agriculture and the planting of home gardens. Further, every city park can also be made into a community garden. The environment is already being tended to, so we might as well feed people through it too. The resources gathered can be shared with local food banks and farmer's markets. Instead of wasting energy on cultivating grass that is only decorative or genetically modifying crops to produce less while people are starving to death, let's make gardens that literally give us an endless supply of useful resources. Perennial plants and heirloom seeds keep giving and giving.
Again, all of this does not have to be difficult to implent. We have seen that literally every step of the process can be made fully automated!
"If It Is So Easy, Why Isn't It Already Being Done?"
Other than the "red tape" of various organizations, it is only the current agricultural practices which make it a labor-intensive endeavor. This might seem counter-intuitive. Hasn't agriculture only become better with the advances that have been made within agricultural science? In some ways, yes. In other ways, just the opposite. To give a simple example...
"Monoculture" (i.e.: the planting of only one type of crop) is used so that large machines (like "combine harvesters") can make this task easier. However, as stated before, this also leads to a systemic problem:
If a large number of the same type of plant is concentrated within a given area, the soils become depleted as all of the plants compete for the same nutrients. Chemical fertilizers are used in response, but these have the minimum of necessary minerals for plant health. They produce a sickly plant susceptible to diseases and insect infestation. Fungicides and pesticides are used to combat these problems, but poison the groundwater supply and kill off helpful creatures like butterflies, bees, ladybugs, and earthworms...All of these things are interconnected! The constructive aspects of Nature and human technology should NOT be at odds with one another.
The ways in which the soil and crop are managed can minimize the necessity of fertilizers and pesticides. The great thing about this system is that it can be used with polyculture (to take advantage of companion planting), mycorrhizal inoculation, contours, and other practices that work with the environment to make hearty plants.
This is just a general outline of the what and why. We will continue to add more information on the how as it is built.
Thank you for reading! ♥