It’s a common theme that we hear: Artificial intelligence and robotics are coming for many of the jobs that have traditionally been performed by humans.
But what about the fate of animals?
That prospect was raised recently by David Mantey, a writer for Thomas Publishing, in an article about what’s happening in rice paddy fields. And it involves ducks.
More specifically, aigamo ducks, which are a cross between mallards and domestic fowl. There is a farming method, originating in Japan, that employs these creatures to clear and keep unwanted plants and parasites out of rice paddy fields.
Essentially, it’s an environmentally-friendly practice in which the ducks keep the paddies clear without the need for pesticides. As an ancillary benefit, the ducks’ own waste acts as fertilizer for the rice plants.
The centuries-old practice was revived in Japan the mid-1980s, and has since become a popular natural rice farming method beyond that country, used in places like China, Iran and France.
Broadly speaking, approximately 15 ducks can keep more than a 10,000 sq. ft. area clear of weeds and insects, while also enriching the water with oxygen via stirring up the soil beneath.
It seems like a neat and tidy solution all-around — and one that works based on decades of experience with the farming practice. But as it turns out, it’s something that a robot can accomplish, too (well, maybe not the duck waste bit) — with certain improvements on the original tradition.
While ducks can be “trained” to patrol specific areas of a rice paddy, it isn’t a foolproof proposition. As for the robotic version (which looks more like a white, floating ROOMBA® than it does a duck), it utilizes wi-fi and GPS technology to stir up the soil and keep the bugs at bay.
Reportedly, the robot is more accurate and more consistent in its execution compared to the aigamo ducks.
At the moment, the rice paddy robot is in an experimental phase with beta prototypes patrolling paddies in Yamagata Prefecture in northern Japan — and it’s too soon to know if or when the robot will be deemed ready for commercialization.
But the development goes to show that robots are spreading into some very surprising corners. Indeed, it seems that robotics technology knows no bounds.