• John Ennis

Eye on AI - September 24th, 2021

Welcome to Aigora's "Eye on AI" series, where we round up exciting news at the intersection of consumer science and artificial intelligence!

This week, we’ll be returning to precision farming with a look at the implications of Australia’s first fully automated farm and the rise of agriculture-driven sensors and applications.


Enjoy!


The Implications of Australia’s First Fully-Automated Farm



We begin with a look at the Business Insider article “How lettuce-picking robots are transforming agriculture on a 'hands-free' farm,” which gives us a detailed look at Australia’s first fully automated farm. The farm spans 1,900 hectares and uses drones, robot tractors, harvesters, and smart sensors to create a completely hands-free farming experience, with AI improving decision-making around emissions, planting, conditioning, and harvesting.


“It won't be long before technology takes farmers out of the field and immerses them in the world of robotics, automation, and artificial intelligence," Food Agility CEO Richard Norton said in the press release. "Full automation is not a distant concept; there are already mines in the Pilbara operated entirely in this way.”

While Australia’s fully automated lettuce farm gives us a look at what farming could be, other versions of AI-driven farms are beginning to take shape. Vertical farms save space in cities. Smart greenhouses now run nearly autonomously. Alternative meat helps reduce greenhouse gas emissions. These innovations are coming at a time when positive change is desperately needed in agriculture, as global warming threatens the future of agriculture production.


There is the fear (and a valid one at that) that the rise of AI could threaten agriculture jobs. The World Economic Forum’s short-term estimates show that automation will create 97 million jobs, much more than it will displace. Yet most of these jobs may not be directly related to agriculture. The hope is that as automation grows, opportunities will arise to help displaced workers transition into other areas of focus, though much work is still needed to make that a reality.


Sensors Help Agriculture, But Too Many May Be a Bad Thing



In related news, this year's ARPA Energy Innovation Summit showcased many new sensors for crops and farmlands, including agricultural sensors that help farmers to monitor plant and soil conditions close to real-time, similar to how smart apps monitor our health. Among the most notable was a zero-power infrared sensor detecting a plant's thirst and a 3D-printed, biodegradable soil sensor that checks moisture and nitrogen levels.


“3D-printed sensors allow farmers to place many sensors throughout their large farmlands—often hundreds of acres—without spending a ton of money,” writes IEEE Spectrum contributor Karen Kwon. “And this enables the farmers to monitor soil conditions in greater detail... Traditional sensors were too expensive for the farmers to buy in large quantities, and, as a result, the special resolution wasn't high enough to reflect this variability. With the new, cheap sensors, farmers will be able to collect data on their farms without worrying about the variability.”

AI applications, driven by technological innovations and a growing demand for precision farming, are booming in agriculture. Many are extremely effective. But there is such a thing as too much of a good thing. Apps aren’t always compatible with one another, which causes difficulties with integration; others have short lifespans with transitioning companies or are difficult to manage.


The abundance of agriculture apps are causing issues for the agriculture sector. Researchers and farmers must assess whether the apps they implement will lead to more problems than they’re worth. As technology advances, these issues should be reduced. For now, farmers need to choose their apps wisely if they don’t want to be left with unexpected complications.



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