Robotics revolution
COVID pushes agriculture industry to adapt swiftly to robotics
In some sectors use of robotic assistance permits remote evaluation of trials and sharing of data with both operators and clients.

Agriculture sector players, in a bid to keep both products and plants healthy under pandemic conditions, have implemented robotics and other digital technologies which allow remote observation and keep pests and viruses at bay.

Locally, Dr André Gordon, chairman and CEO of Technological Solutions Limited in Kingston, told the Jamaica Observer that the advent of the novel coronavirus pandemic has brought the primacy of science and the importance of being able to effectively apply cutting-edge science to the fore.

He outlines, “Nowhere is this more impactful than in the application of, and development in robotics in the development of industries and economies around the globe.”

A good example globally is Enza Zaden Global, vegetable seed producer which has 45 subsidiaries and three joint ventures in 25 countries. The company said in a recent magazine issue (enzazazen.com) that, to protect plant capital and individuals from viruses, the company is taking strict hygiene measures, limiting access to greenhouses and crops, and keeping distance between individuals leading to the use of robot trolleys with cameras riding around greenhouses and drones flying over trial fields.

The company indicates that this enables evaluation of trials remotely and generates data (for example, for phenotyping), processes it and shares it with each other and clients.

The company’s Datalab has also been working with other units to produce an “Observations Without Borders” programme which involves collecting crop data using vision technology, sensors, drones and robots.

Enza Zaden outlines, “To make all the data accessible, [and] link it to other existing data flows and present it in a way that will aid decision-making, a worldwide dashboard for all users at Enza Zaden, provides all the internal and external data you need for efficient decision-making, which you can then share with customers.”

Jamaican experience

Dr Gordon notes that in Jamaica, while used in some settings, there has not been widespread application of robotics to industry and economy.

He said, however, “Currently, several manufacturers use robotics or robotic-driven production as part of the manufacturing processes. This is seen in the robots that are used for packaging manufactured food and other items, managing the filling of ingredients into packaging for a range of products, for managing transmission of products along production lines and moving products between lines, as well as robotics controlled by programmable linear controllers in some production plants.”

He asserts that in Jamaica widespread use of robots for repetitive, high-precision tasks (such as welding, fabrication of products, opening and closing of packaging and packaging food, pharmaceutical and agricultural products) is a potential application that could bring better efficiencies to production processes domestically.

Gordon shared, “In our own operations, Technological Solutions Limited (TSL) has been using a robotic precision filling of analytes into containers being prepared for analyses as a key contributor to our more advanced analytical processes. There is significant scope for further application of robotics in the area of analytical services, an area that we are exploring for microbiological and other analyses.”

In the area of health care, operations are being done by robots controlled by suitably trained doctors.

Gordon commented, “There remains tremendous potential for this particular application in the Jamaican context, particularly where there is a shortage of suitably skilled surgeons domestically. This may allow remote management of selected surgeries being performed locally by skilled surgeons controlling robots located in health facilities as is done elsewhere.”

Finally, he highlights the area of diagnostics which he says can be revolutionised, “if robots who prepare, run and analyse the data produced by the analytical process can be employed to speed up diagnostic analyses and reduce the risk of operator error, particularly in high complexity analytical procedures often typify some medical diagnostics.

These are but a few ways in which robotics can impact production, efficiencies, health care and the Jamaican economy overall, Gordon said.

Dr. Andre Gordon says that Technological Solutions Limited (TSL) has been using a robotic precision filling of analytes into containers being prepared for analyses.
After the advent of the Covid-19 pandemic, industries and economies around the globe have adapted more swiftly to robotics.

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