Sunday Morning Garden Chat: “A Field Farmed Only By Drones”

A little something for both the gardening and the geeking commentariat. Now, if only they can program the drones to do the weeding… Nicola Twilley, in the New Yorker:

Across the United Kingdom, the last of the spring barley has been brought in from the fields, the culmination of an agricultural calendar whose rhythm has remained unchanged for millennia. But when the nineteenth-century poet John Clare wrote, in his month-by-month description of the rural year, that in September “harvest’s busy hum declines,” it seems unlikely that he was imagining the particular buzz—akin to an amplified mosquito—of a drone.

“The drone barley snatch was actually the thing that made it for me,” Jonathan Gill, a robotics engineer at Harper Adams University, told me recently. Gill is one of three self-described “lads” behind a small, underfunded initiative called Hands Free Hectare. Earlier this month, he and his associates became the first people in the world to grow, tend, and harvest a crop without direct human intervention. The “snatch” occurred on a blustery Tuesday, when Gill piloted his heavy-duty octocopter out over the middle of a field, and, as the barley whipped from side to side in the propellers’ downdraft, used a clamshell dangling from the drone to take a grain sample, which would determine whether the crop was ready for harvesting. (It was.) “Essentially, it’s the grab-the-teddy-with-the-claw game on steroids,” Gill’s colleague, the agricultural engineer Kit Franklin, said. “But it had never been done before. And we did it.”

The idea for the project came about over a glass of barley’s best self: beer. Gill and Franklin were down the pub, lamenting the fact that, although big equipment manufacturers such as John Deere likely have all the technology they need to farm completely autonomously, none of them seem to actually be doing it. Gill knew that drones could be programmed, using open-source code, to move over a field on autopilot, changing altitude as needed. What if you could take the same software, he and Franklin wondered, and make it control off-the-shelf agricultural machinery? Together Gill, Franklin, and Martin Abell, a recent Harper Adams graduate, rustled up just over a quarter million dollars in grant money. Then they got hold of some basic equipment—a small Japanese tractor designed for use in rice paddies, a similarly undersized twenty-five-year-old combine harvester, a sprayer boom, and a seed drill—and connected the drone software to a series of motors, which, with a little tinkering, made it capable of turning the tractor’s steering wheel, switching the spray nozzles on and off, raising and lowering the drill, and choreographing the complex mechanized ballet of the combine…
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Triangle Meet-up tonight

We’re are still on tonight at Ponysaurus in Durham starting at 5:30. I will have green balloons on my chair.

Regarding dogs, this is the message that I got back:

“We are very dog friendly, however, due to state laws, cannot allow pets inside the taproom. They are welcome on our patio and in our beer garden!”

See you tonight!

A proud parenting moment

My little girl is getting bigger every day.

I just needed to share one of my prouder parenting moments as a momentary break from current event craziness:

Baby’s first keg stand from oh so long ago.

Open thread

“Come live with me and be my love”

Blue jays have been swooping and screeching and carrying on in my side yard all day. Here’s a pair perched in the banana tree:

They have a nasty reputation, blue jays, but they’re lovely birds.

So glad today is Friday. This week has felt eternal. Got any big plans for the weekend?

I was thinking of joining the protests in Orlando outside Der Gropenfürher’s not-at-all-weirdly-fascist “rally” on Saturday. But some folks who don’t seem overly alarmist or kooky are warning that it might very well be a trap, that Trumpian goons might try to cause trouble to put the resistance in a bad light.

Honestly, I have no idea if that’s true or not. But it’s a good excuse to skip a dreadful trip on I-4 to Orlando and instead fulfill a long-standing ambition to ride the Beer Bus Brewery Tour all over Tampa with my sister.

Open thread!

July 3rd Capitol Hill meet-up

For a variety of reasons, I am in Washington, DC at the start of next week.

Would anyone want to go grab a beer or two around Capitol Hill on Sunday, July 3rd in the late evening.  I’ll supply the green balloons if you can recommend a good place to meet at 8:30.


Wednesday Evening Open Thread: Saving ‘Brawndo’ for After the Election

Per the Boston Globe:

Budweiser announced on Tuesday that it is making a drastic change to its signature beer labels this summer, renaming its lager “America” and replacing most of its branding with patriotic mottos.

The redesigned cans and bottles that hold its ubiquitous beer will be on shelves through the election season, the company said…

Anheuser-Busch, which was sold to Belgian beer-maker InBev in 2008, will introduce the cans on May 23.

Just in time for your Memorial Day adult beverage needs!

Apart from realizing that some people are treating Idiocracy as an instruction manual, what’s on the agenda for the evening?

Getting upstream of the costs

Same Facts is pushing a RAND report on 24/7 Sobriety in South Dakota.  It is showing incredible results for improved health and safety outcomes.

Examining the 24/7 Sobriety Program in South Dakota, which started as a pilot in 2005, researchers found that county implementation of the program was associated with a 4 percent drop in deaths at the county level.

The South Dakota 24/7 Sobriety Program requires that individuals with an alcohol-involved offense undergo twice-a-day breathalyzer tests, typically once in the morning and once in the evening, or wear continuous alcohol monitoring bracelets. Individuals who fail or skip required tests are immediately subject to a short jail term, typically a day or two for a failed test.

Nearly 17,000 individuals — nearly 3 percent of the state’s adult population — participated in the 24/7 program between January 2005 and June 2011. Nearly half of the participants were enrolled after a repeat DUI offense, while others were enrolled after a first-time DUI offence or being charged with assault or domestic violence….

To examine whether the program was associated with changes in mortality, researchers analyzed county-level mortality data from January 2000 through June 2011, and took advantage of the fact that counties implemented the strategy at different points in time…..

The association was evident not only for total deaths, but also among conditions sensitive to alcohol use, including circulatory conditions.

Mark Kleiman ( a big supporter of 24/7 Sobriety and more generally swift/certain/small punishment regimes) at Vox makes another point on cost effectiveness:

The program costs less than $2 per participant per day; offenders are required to bear that cost, presumably out of the money they would otherwise spend on alcohol.

Doing some very quick back of the envelope calculations, this is a $12 million dollar a year program at most ($2 per day per participant *17,000*365).  It works out to be a public health investment of no less than a penny per person per week.  This is a massive overestimate as the program was evaluated over a six year period and people came in and out of the program.  But let’s stick with $12 million as the worst case scenario is massive illuminating anyways.

The program only had to avoid two deaths per year or add 120 QALY improvements to be cost effective as a public health measure.  If the 4% reduction in mortality runs through verification, the averted deaths are orders of magnitude higher than the minimal needed to be a break even proposition.

This is an extreme example of how public health programs can be used to divert medical expenses.  South Dakota’s hospitals are most likely seeing a healthier population than they otherwise would have been seeing.  There would be fewer car crashes, fewer cirrhosis cases,  fewer cardiovascular failures than the counterfactual of having drunk drivers still drinking.  Substance abuse is a known cost driver in risk adjustment, and it is often a co-morbidity multiplier where it makes treating other issues harder and more expensive.  From a public health perspective society paying a few pennies per person per month for this type of public health intervention is a massive win.

It is a win at the immediate outcome level, and it is a win at avoiding sending people to limited detox and rehab beds at $1,000 or more per bed per night.