Photo by David Dourhout.

Most farm machinery right now consists of huge machines. But in the future, farm machinery could be “a swarm of planting, tending, and harvesting robots running game theory and swarm behavior algorithms to help optimize every inch of arable space in a given field,” Popular Science reports. That’s one Iowan’s vision, anyway, and he’s created a prototype of a farmbot. It’s named Prospero.

Prospero roams around your farm, judges where seeds need to be planted, plants the seeds, and so forth. Right now, he works alone, because he’s the only one of his kind (*sniff*). In theory, though, the robot will be part of a group that works something like an ant colony:

Following the model of ants, which mark places of interest (read: food) with pheromones so other ants can find them, [David Dorhout] designed his ‘bots to mark planted seeds with a shot of white spray paint that changes the reflectivity of the soil around the site. Other robots register this change in reflectivity, allowing them to see every seed in the field.

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This technology means more individual care for the plants, and more individual care could mean increased yield per acre. Since there are going to be a lot of hungry people to feed in the world, that’s good news: Greater yields per acre mean less land needs to be switched over to farmland.

It’s not clear how well these bots will do in more complex farming systems — like, say, more than one type of seed. But they’re already smarter than tractors, so there’s hope.

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