Internet of Things and Agriculture
When one hears the term “”Internet of Things””, they might think of items such as smart voice assistants, smart watches, smart thermostats, smart security, or many other items. However, there is one very important industry that the Internet of Things has begun to impact that isn’t mentioned as often, and that is agriculture. The Internet of Things is rapidly expanding into agriculture and causing “”smart farming”” by using the application of sensors, robots, drones, and other modern technologies to improve the capabilities and production of farmers.
The first addition that may be added to smart farming is that of robots and autonomous labor. Because farming employment is decreasing, and world population is increasing, robotic farming machines will slowly begin to become a necessity. Most of farming is repetitive, standardized labor, which makes robots the perfect solution to increase productivity. There has already been integration of robots into farming with machines called “”AgBots””. https://www.theguardian.com/sustainable-business/2017/may/09/agbots-next-gen-farming-and-how-they-can-teach-us-about-the-future-of-work Even now, driverless tractors have already begun to become a thing. Currently, while farmers still have to be in the tractors and type in certain parameters, they don’t actually have to be driving the tractor at all times. It can take in information, and determine what route it should be going on without the driver steering it.
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Seeding and planting can also be improved by using better technology. The main problem with seeding machines today is that they use a scatter method, which doesn’t maximize effectiveness. By using geo-mapping and sensor data detailing soil quality, density, moisture, and nutrient levels, farmers can get the correct depth and spacing plants need for optimal growth. This process is called precision seeding and is also expected to grow.
After planting, the next process to improve would be automatic watering and irrigation. Currently, there is a process called Subsurface Drip Irrigation, which allows farmers to control when and how much water their crop receives. Subsurface Drip Irrigation is “”a low-pressure, high efficiency irrigation system that uses buried drip tubes or drip tape to meet crop water needs. A subsurface system is flexible and can provide frequent light irrigations.”” http://extension.colostate.edu/topic-areas/agriculture/subsurface-drip-irrigation-sdi-4-716/ If farmers were to combine this with Internet of Things enabled sensors to continuously monitor moisture levels and plant health, this too would improve.
Once planted, even weeding and crop maintenance can be made better using advanced sensors and artificial intelligence. Already, there’s machines being created that utilize machine learning to identify weeds. One of these is the Bonirob (https://www.popsci.com/meet-bonirob-plant-breeding-weed-smashing-robot ), and another is the UC Davis Prototype. The Bonirob uses hundreds of pictures of good plants and bad leaves and over time, determines the difference to the point where it can pick out all of the weeds. The UC Davis Prototype can detect a fluorescent dye that the seeds are coated with when planted and can cut out the non-glowing weeds. Both of these can save very time-consuming, tedious tasks, and can even be more effective than humans as well.
Another example of the Internet of Things already affecting the agriculture field is the use of drones for imaging. While before, a farmer would have to hire a helicopter or something of the sort just to get a picture of their fields from above, now they can very simply use drones. By using these drones, it enables farmers to collect more detailed data than ever before. They can determine crop health, the best location for plantings, and improve almost every aspect with location mapping.
In the future, drones could even be used to plant from the air. Two companies, DroneSeed (https://www.droneseed.co/ )and BioCarbon (https://www.biocarbonengineering.com/ ), are developing drones that can carry a module that fires tree seeds into the ground at optimal locations. While they are currently being used to plant trees, the same thing could be used for agriculture. If one had an entire team of planting drones, the could very effectively and precisely plant in the ideal conditions.
Every single one of these ideas can improve farm life on it’s own, but if they were to all be connected and incorporated together, it would make an unfathomable difference. Smart farms could have sensors embedded throughout the field that would collect all types of data, which could go directly to AgBots in the field. There could be teams of robots constantly traversing the fields to respond to the needs of crops, while drones tour the sky, generating maps and data of their own. All of this together would create higher crop production, maximizing effectiveness and improving the availability and quality of food. By using the Internet of Things to its full capabilities in the agriculture field, it could truly impact the lives of everyone around us.