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The Latest Generation Gap In Farming Is About Robots

Oct 21, 2019

On a recent bright, clear day in eastern Nebraska, a small red machine crept through a lush field of soybeans. From the highway, it looked like a small tractor. Up close, its mess of wires came into focus. So did the laptop strapped to the back.

This is the Flex-Ro (Flexible Robotic Unit), one of several robots across the world being designed and tested to help farmers maximize crop yield, use fewer pesticides, and manage the industry’s dwindling labor market.

Crysta Henthorne / Kansas News Service

Regulate us, please

In 2013, a coalition of school districts formed. They’d be laboratories for new ideas. If they could show the state they were serious enough about making classrooms work in new and better ways, they’d be freed from some state rules — notably, who they could hire as teachers and how much testing they had to run their students through.

The state law outlining the special status was limited to a small number of school districts. Ultimately, Blue Valley, Kansas City, Fredonia, Concordia, Hugoton, Marysville and McPherson schools signed up.

Two lines of forward-facing trucks with a man walking away between them.
Tech Sgt. Larry E. Reid, Jr. / U.S. Air Force

Segment 1: As crashes involving large trucks continue to increase, resistance to crash avoidance and mitigation technology remains.

When a tractor-trailer truck runs into the back end of a passenger vehicle at highway speed, there's a good chance that people will die. Today, jumping off an recent Kansas City Star investigation, we talked about collisions between trucks and passenger vehicles, the number of resulting deaths and potential preventive measures.

Segment 1: How will automation affect the future of work?

Self-driving cars, ATMs and self-checkouts ... many fields have been affected by technology. And studies project that half our current work activities could be automated by 2055. What kind of work will we do — and will there be enough of it?

Laura Spencer / KCUR 89.3

“Makers” is a series that shares stories of why people are compelled to create something with their own hands. 

Interactive toy maker Sphero has challenged University of Kansas design and engineering students to create its next generation of products — robots that can be  companions and have emotional value to a person. On this edition of Up To Date we talk about the potential social significance of robotics and what the future looks like in the field. 

Guests: 

Cody Newill / KCUR

Nearly 500 students from the Kansas City metro area competed in the For Inspiration and Recognition of Science and Technology, or FIRST, Tech Challenge qualifier Saturday. 

Thirty-seven teams of middle and high school students filled UMKC's Swinney Recreation Center. Each team brought a small remote-controlled robot to roll around small arenas. The students guided their robots to try to collect Wiffle balls and place them in tall bins.

North Charleston / Flickr-CC

It seems like we depend on machines for nearly everything we do, and a whole new breed of mechanical wonders is invading Kansas City this weekend for the 2014 KC Regional First Robotics Competition. 

On Friday's Up to Date, we talk about the competition that's attracting more than a thousand high school students who have designed their own robots.

Guests:

Kids love robots.

A family visit to the USA Science and Engineering Festival in Washington this weekend drove that point home again and again.