The thought of autonomous farming, or robots doing much of the work traditionally done by farmers, is becoming a reality. For 23 years, Mel Torrie has been pioneering in the space, from when he saw an autonomous wheelchair driving down a hallway using ultrasonics to position itself.
Today, Torrie's company Autonomous Solutions, has been able to make autonomous farming a reality. He and a team of professors, students, and tech transfer groups have created autonomous tractors that can drive through orchards and vineyards every seven days to spray dangerous chemicals without risk to workers.
However, as Torrie points out, the persistent challenge has been the lack of foundational standards to claim that the companies working in the autonomous industry are adhering to. Torrie and his partners found a solution by partnering with John Deere and Case New Holland to create standards to protect against liability.
The ability to deploy autonomous farming has also been made possible with the help of Tesla and Elon Musk. According to Torrie, Musk's claims around the need for human oversight, where a human is watching multiple tractors with a video link, like a security system, has reassured liability concerns.
Torrie's company recently received backing from SoftBank. "They have been incredible people to work with. It's the SoftBank Robotics group, so obviously, they pull from a common set of money and leadership, but they're focused on building great companies. We've been very fortunate with them as a partner," Torrie explains.
The main focus of Torrie and his team is to develop autonomous mining solutions, but their work in the consumer space is equally impressive. Torrie explains that autonomous lawnmowers are now available to the public recently.
However, beyond Torrie's hard work, ambition, and dedication to the autonomous space, the lessons from his childhood upbringing have been instrumental to his success. The most important being "putting people first" has shaped the efficient, versatile, and innovative corporate culture he maintains in his work.
Today, Torrie and his team are pushing the boundaries of autonomous farming on one hundred acres in northern Utah. By using a game-like interface, teenagers fresh out of high school run the command center and orchestrate the robotic vehicles' movements that are essential for autonomous farming.
Torrie's ultimate vision has always been building an employee-owned company and creating a viable long-term enterprise. He stresses the importance of caring for employees and aligning all working for his company to the same purpose. Through this, Torrie can push the limits of autonomous farming and ensure that his company lasts for generations.
Buttoning things up with a bold statement, Torrie conveys his message to the industry: "Put people first and build a long-term enterprise."
Autonomous farming is quickly becoming an integral part of our future. It is no small feat to bring this type of advanced technology to life, yet the combination of innovative thinking and hard work has allowed the industry to get to where it is today. With people like Mel Torrie developing autonomous farming solutions, it is evident that the industry has a bright, productive future ahead.
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