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EditorialsUp Front 10/11

Up Front 10/11

Most of us living in the country have become used to the disruption to the rural idyll that happens around the end of summer; when tractors turn the lanes into a grand prix circuit in an effort to get the harvest in. In times past, many of the processes used to bring crops in from the fields were done by hand. Hardy men sweated for long hours in the fields, supped home-made cider to quench their thirst and occasionally brought a rabbit home for the pot. Today even small farmers will bring in contractors who have invested in bigger, faster and more efficient machinery to do the same job. Gone are the days when children had time to get out of the way of a tractor hauling a trailer full of grass down the road. Along with lightning-speed broadband the countryside roared into the 21st century with sophisticated balers, combine harvesters and tractors that can offer speeds of up to 80 km/h. And for those following the technology and looking to shave off a bit more of the effort from the process, a Belgian group has now engineered a fully automated, self-steering robotic tractor. The tractor adapts itself to terrain conditions and adjusts its speed and turning radius automatically. It can complete a pre-programmed route with exceptional precision…and without the intervention of a driver.  It’s been a long time since we first complained about machines taking over our jobs. That quiet revolution that began many decades ago, when robotic machines undertook jobs that were too dirty, dangerous or boring for humans, has changed many lives. No doubt it has saved many lives also but it’s hard to imagine the typical cartoon of a farmer leaning on a gate watching a driverless tractor ploughing his field.

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