New Zealand Listener

THE COW LOVES ROBOTS

The video begins with dawn breaking over rows and rows of white-roofed greenhouses. They stretch as far as the camera can see. Music swells. Then, the voice-over: “Vegetable cultivation is becoming increasingly important,” a sensible man with a

British accent stresses. “More efficient production is essential due to the rising population and lack of space. Forecasts and data play a crucial role in this. Their quality and reliability determine how close the process can be pushed” – our narrator pauses slightly for dramatic effect – “to the edge.”

And that is why tomato farmers need the – wait for it! – Plantalyzer, he says. Okay, so it sounds like a 70s game show, but, in fact, the Plantalyzer that this online advertisement is trying to sell to tomato growers is an example of the latest in agricultural technology: advanced crop estimation.

There will be close to 10 billion people on Earth by 2050. And they’ll need to eat.

Every night, the Plantalyzer, which looks like a souped-up golf trolley, slinks around greenhouses surreptitiously taking pictures of baby tomatoes in the dark. A combination of robotics, smart cameras and forecasting software, it then delivers informa tion about

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