We are going to need the IoT (Internet of Things) to help solve the problems that are facing agriculture and the future of food. There is not a person on the planet that doesn’t understand the importance of food, ag, and farming. Couple these facts with people living longer than ever, and we just keep having babies and you have a pot ready to boil over.
All of these factors combined will lead to a more crowded planet than we’ve ever experienced before. With more mouths to feed, we as a global society will need to figure out how to produce more food. This challenge will become an even greater challenge. We can’t exactly whip up farmable land and fresh water out of nowhere. And with what scientists are saying about the changing nature of earth’s climate, we’re in for more variations in weather patterns and an increase in the number of natural disasters.
IoT technologies are playing a huge role in helping farmers, growers, and producers meet this new wave of challenges. And that is why AI (artificial intelligence) is impacting agriculture in so many ways. Typically, when we think of AI and its applications in today’s connected society, we may think of AI’s use in personal assistant technologies like Siri, Alexa, and Cortana.
But even if it’s not top-of-mind when we think about AI, it’s very possible that agriculture will one day rely on AI and robotics to feed a hungry world. That’s not just me putting these words down and talking off the cuff, either.
According to a report by MarketsandMarkets, the segment for AI in agriculture is expected to exceed $2.6 billion by 2025—that’s up from $519 million in 2017
Some of the factors is a growing population that has created a demand for an increase in agricultural production, and the industry needs to find ways to meet this demand. We are also facing new agricultural challenges thanks to climate change. In addition, there’s a growing acceptance of innovative information-management systems across industries.
Everybody wants to know how they can get data and use it to increase the bottomline. In agriculture, realtime data and machine learning are being increasingly accepted by farmers as a way to gain a competitive edge by enhancing crop yield and improving crop quality.
Let’s look at just a few global examples. Here’s a cool one: The nation of Indonesia is leveraging AI combined with a vessel monitoring system and a large-vessel AIS (automatic information system) to protect its inshore waters from illegal fishing.
Using the data captured from the vessel monitoring and AIS, operators have trained AI to detect whether a vessel is just passing through or if it’s fishing. What’s more, it can recognize different types of fishing—for instance, whether it’s line fishing or trawling—with astonishing accuracy: 95%. This realtime data and activity analysis can then be cross-referenced against a database of fishing permits to see whether or not a vessel is fishing illegally.
IBM also has some ideas about how AI can be used to improve agricultural production. For instance, IBM says the use of commercial drones and AI can help farmers scan fields, monitor crops, and analyze plant health in realtime. These solutions can not only identify areas of concern but also take action based on the feedback being received by the machines.
Farmers may also benefit from one of the more traditional uses of AI: virtual assistants. AI-powered virtual assistants using machine-learning techniques to understand natural language and interact with users could someday help farmers by answering their agriculture-related questions and providing data-based advice.
Another tech giant, Microsoft, is also working on an AI-enabled solution—in this case to help farmers predict pest problems. Microsoft, in collaboration with India’s largest producer of agrochemicals, United Phosphorous, has created a pest risk prediction API that leverages AI and machine learning to advise farmers about the risk of pest attacks.
The app provides predictive insights farmers can use to act proactively instead of reactively, thereby reducing crop loss due to inevitable pest infestations. Another point worth mentioning is robots. You can read more about it on the Connected World Website. But simply, robots will one day do what farmers have had to do by hand for centuries. Whether it’s monitoring seeds or crops, identifying and eradicating weeds or pests, or even harvesting crops, AI and robotics will bring a whole new era of proficiency to the growing of food.
A startup company called Blue River Technology was cofounded by two engineering students who wanted to leverage robotics, machine learning, and computer vision to bring advanced technologies to agriculture and they have created an ag bot called the “lettuce bot.”
The Blue River Technology team has been working on an autonomous machine that, as it moves through agricultural fields, leverages computer vision to detect and segment individual plants in an effort to find and destroy weeds. This type of solution could be game-changing for organic lettuce farming. Since organic farms can’t use chemicals to get rid of weeds, they must be plucked by hand.
This is exactly the sort of slow, back-breaking labor that a robot can do better than a human. And pretty soon, we will look back and think it’s crazy that we used to pick weeds by hand. I can just imagine explaining to my grandchildren how we used to do so many tasks in life and business by hand …
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