Robots at the plantation? In Samoa? Now we’re really talking technology

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Mata'afa Keni Lesa

Whenever we think of the humble plantation we immediately conjure up images of the trusty sapelu (machete), gumboots (if you have some), pea ato (baskets woven from coconut fronds), amo and the weed eater. 

Those are the basic tools of the trade on these shores. And that’s even before we begin the hard slog of clearing the land, finding the oso and so forth. 

It goes without saying that agriculture traditionally is labour intensive work – that’s what most of us know at least.

But something interesting happened in Samoa this week in terms of agricultural development. It certainly caught the attention of this writer. If anything it goes to show that not only have times changed dramatically, farming into the future might never be the same again.

Now think of tech wizards, computers, robots and a few extremely intelligent guys with the sort of thinking that could transform the way we do things here. 

That said, let’s be realistic. This will not happen overnight. It could be another lifetime away. Still, the idea that digital farmhand is being tested and trialled here is fascinating. Who would’ve thought?

But that’s precisely what happened this week when a group of engineers from the University of Sydney, Australia, tested a breakthrough form of technology at Taimalie Charlie Westerlund’s farm at Tapatapao.

Lead Engineer for the Digital Farmhand project, Muhammad Esa Attia, tells us a little bit more about the project. It involves a robot and a computer programme.

 “The whole idea of this project is we want to develop a platform where can empower small farmers and in order to do that we have to look at the design of this robot from the ground up,” he said. He added they wanted to see if they could come up with something sustainable for Samoa.

 “Some farmers are subsistence farmers, and then farms like Ah Likis are a full blown commercial operation, so it’s about finding solutions that follow these different levels of farming,” he said. 

“By me bringing the robot into Samoa, I’m showing what that future could be, but at the same time show potential farmers that if we think of this problem in a different way, we can take some elements from this robot and apply it to your farm.”

Pretty heady stuff, isn’t it? 

Now think of the day when we turn up to the plantation only to find robots and wizards with remote controls? Where will all those unemployed Samoans go? What about 90 per cent of the population who claim their occupation as farmers? What will they do then?

The good news is the reality of this happening in Samoa is still a long way away.

“This is not a commercial product, this is a research product,” said Mr. Attia.

 Besides, he said building and operating such advanced scientific technology is going to require certain specialist skills.

And it will certainly change how farmers look at hiring their workers in the future.

“We are looking at the I.C.T. and education requirements to get an understanding of what the level of the I.C.T. and education level is to get an idea of where they are at and whether or not they have the skills set to maintain a platform like this,” said Mr. Attia. 

“If not how do we make things simpler to cater for that -we are definitely looking into that.”

Goodness we’ve come a long way. 

Talk about how to ‘sexy up’ agriculture development. Talk about changing mindsets about the imagery of plantations and the humble taro and banana farm.

Think about new opportunities for all those computer science wizards and apps developers in Samoa to continue to advance and turn the development of our agriculture sector up a notch? 

Robots at the plantation? In Samoa? Who said we’re not technologically savvy on these shores? The sky is indeed really the limit.

Have a wonderful weekend Samoa, God bless!

© Samoa Observer 2016

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