Agricultural Printing: A Rooftop Farm Culled By Autonomous Tractors

Agricultural Printing: A Rooftop Farm Culled By Autonomous Tractors

The World Expo Milano 2015 is still a few years years off, but details about the pavilions are starting to emerge. Today, we learn that a building sponsored by Dutch agricultural machinery company New Holland will feature a sloping rooftop field farmed by two “zero-emission, robotised, self-driving tractors”.

Carlo Ratti Associati, the Italian architects behind the proposal (who we’ve written about before), describe the process as a form of 3D printing: The tractors will operate by reading fine-grained soil and water data from an array of sensors on the roof.

“This points to a future where an agricultural field could be considered as a giant base for ‘agricultural printing’,” the design team writes in their brief, adding that “advanced robotic technologies are reshaping agriculture.”

There’s a particularly crowd-pleasing bonus to the plan: These tractors will also be able to “draw” on the field, shaping the verge into different patterns. If that sounds familiar, it’s because it’s based on a project by an interaction designer named Benedikt Groß, who carried out a large-scale test of algorithmic farming earlier this summer. Using a carefully-written program, Groß was able to fine-tune the course of a tractor over a specific plot of land, creating protective barriers of weeds around sensitive, high-yield crops.

When we wrote about the project in July, it was unclear if the idea would live beyond the completion of Groß’ thesis project — so it’s exciting to see major farming companies like New Holland taking interest in the technology. Ratti’s design team adds that, when the Expo ends, the project will be disassembled and moved to a new location for further testing. [Carlo Ratti Associati]