A 1919 farming robot

25 Jul

Not what I’d call a sophisticated machine, but interesting none the less. From May 1919 Popular Science magazine:

This Farm-Hand Never Tires or Asks for Pay

It was not alive, apparently, and no human being seemed to be concealed about it, and yet the thing was seen cultivating a ten-acre farm in New jersey. Down the rows of corn it went all alone, and never bruised a blade or chopped a root. It was uncanny to anyone who had never beheld each a sight before, and even to some who had.

  • The furrows between the rows of dwarf corn are made by plows automatically steered.

It worked some nights, too. Dimly outlined in the white moonlight, it could be seen threading its way with almost human intelligence and with mathematical precision, while the farmer slept peacefully in his near-by mansion and dreamed of waving corn-tassels. Around and around the field the thing moved, around a center which it continually approached. The corn had been planted in a spiral formation about a tall post capped with a circular drum or cask.

  • This is the synmotor, the farming machine that does its work without an attendant; when it isn’t cultivating the farm it can be connected to a churn to make butter.

  • On the big drum the steering wire is wound, this drawing the cultivator ever closer to the center.

Close inspection reveals a thin wire extending to a central drum, around which the wire winds itself as the work of cultivating proceeds. That explains the spiral movement. The wire shortens itself by the same amount each trip around, and is used for steering the machine. Yes, it is machine, after all. The wire, being perfectly tempered, cannot stretoh, and an electro-coated surface protects it from rust. Its total weight is less than two pounds; yet a pull of six hundred pounds is required to break it.

The machine is a narrow tractor of special make, and it is called a “synmotor.” The engine is a compact but very efficient gasoline type of about four horsepower. To the framework can be attached any of the usual implements for cultivating the land. Plowing, hoeing, harrowing, and the any other operations are performed in the spiral path as well as in the straight course. A gang-bar, for the attachment of the implements may be used so that several rows may be cultivated at the same time.

When the synmotor is utilized on a large scale, the farm is divided into convenient ten-acre circles, each section being planted and cultivated separately. Any vacant spaces between adjacent circles can be utilized for fruit trees, buildings, or the like. For that matter, the intervening spaces can also be cultivated by merely disengaging the steering wire and utilizing the tractor in the customary manner.

For intensive farming and overlapping seasons, the accuracy of the synmotor in following a given track is of great advantage. The machine does not disturb the small plants, and it can work very closely to the rows. The working tools are spaced the exact distance between rows and do not swerve from the spiral course. Strawberries, peas and other vegetables can be cultivated with the synmotor,

With such a machine as this, the laziest man on earth can sit in the shade and fan himself while gasoline does his work.

  • Showing the works of the synmotor.

I’m sure this is an idea which has occured to many people – I’ve used it myself to compact gravel for a swimming pool. Here it turns up again in May 1960:

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