Aug. 14-17: Global look at agricultural robots, automation

By Seth Truscott, College of Agricultural, Human & Natural Resource Sciences

Manoj_Karkee-with-apple-picking-robot-webSEATTLE – From robots that pick apples to drones that scout pests over cherry orchards, technology is changing agriculture. Advances like these, and many more, will be shared at an upcoming international conference organized by Washington State University scientists.

Agricontrol 2016, the fifth biannual International Federation of Automatic Control Conference on Sensing, Control and Automation for Agriculture, will be Aug. 14-17 at the DoubleTree Hotel at SeaTac, Wash. Register and learn more at

The conference brings together more than 130 agricultural engineers, computer scientists, growers and students from 25 countries to discuss the future of precision and automated agriculture. Events include a reception, agricultural tours and presentations of more than 90 technical papers.

Sharing the big view of automated ag’s future

“Agricontrol provides a multidisciplinary environment where we can look at past achievements, current discoveries and what we can do for the future,” said Manoj Karkee, associate professor in the WSU Department of Biological Systems Engineering, who is organizing the conference with fellow WSU researchers.

WSU’s Lav Khot with a UAV.

“Researchers and growers see the full spectrum of research and development happening around the world,” he said. “It shows us a wider horizon of possibilities.

“In the past, automated agriculture wasn’t possible due to limited computational power,” he said. “Machines weren’t fast enough. Now, a lot of the component technologies have come together.”

Automation and robotics will help solve farming challenges in labor, worker safety, efficiency and productivity, he said.

Drones, robots enhance productivity

With unmanned aerial vehicles, or UAVs, for example, farmers could safely and frequently scout their crops for disease or damage. UAVs can hover closer to crops than manned aircraft, cover more ground than farmers on foot and zero in on potential trouble spots.

“We can quickly see the difference between a healthy crop and a crop with problems,” said Karkee. “Instead of going over hundreds of thousands of plants, we can do more specific tests in smaller areas.”

Technology like Karkee’s WSU-pioneered apple-picking robot (, or his colleague Lav Khot’s agricultural drones (, could become commercially affordable and widespread in less than a decade, Karkee said.

“If we can produce fruits and vegetables more sustainably and cost-effectively, we can continue to provide high quality produce to many people at a reasonable cost,” he said. “As a researcher, it feels good to make that kind of impact on the industry and public.”


Manoj Karkee, WSU biological systems engineering, 509-786-9208,