Autonomous agricultural machinery

Since we are talking about unmanned vehicles, it would be a sin not to mention unmanned agricultural machinery. Its beginnings appeared almost 60 years ago - in 1962, the Dutch engineer Cornelis Sieling created the first autonomous Agri-Robot tractor for plowing fields. Naturally, there was no talk of any electronics at that time - the automatic change of the furrow was implemented by means of two probe-wheels in front and behind. The technology was already quite working, although it was more suitable for regular rectangular fields.

But the lack of economic feasibility and the shortcomings of the then technologies delayed the development of these systems for at least 40 years. In the 2000s, interest in this topic began to revive, and the first steps in creating image recognition software systems only helped this. In 2008, John Deere, one of the world's leading tractor manufacturers, introduced the iTEC Pro system, designed for independent movement of tractors using a GPS signal. Since it is designed to be integrated into modern universal tractors, we are talking not only about automatic plowing, but also about sowing, watering and even mowing. The system exists to this day, while it cannot be called a full-fledged "autopilot" - the presence of a machine operator in the cab is still necessary to control and configure the system. Further development of iTEC Pro led to the emergence of the Machine Sync system, with which the combine and tractor are "synchronized" with the harvest trailer.

However, many other large manufacturers of agricultural machinery now have similar systems. At the Japanese Kubota, it is called AgriRobo and is used for tractors, combines and even for rice planters. Their compatriots from Yanmar also have one. The Germans from Claas created a system with the simple name GPS Pilot, and Case IH, another American tractor company, has a system with the quite simple name Autopilot. Russia also did not stand aside: the Rostselmash plant is actively implementing a similar system called RSM AutoDriver. In general, you will not surprise anyone with such automation of work on the field.

Modern technologies at the service of agriculture

But now the so-called "Level 5 drones" are being actively developed: completely independent machines that do not even require a remote operator. The same Rostselmash began to develop an autonomous harvester back in 2017 together with Cognitive Technologies. Now their offspring often flashes at various agricultural exhibitions, and also undergoes trial tests in several regions of the country.

The previously mentioned Case IH, Kubota and John Deere presented their (rather congenial) visions of the "tractor of the future". Naturally, the tractor must be completely autonomous, and even the cab should not be on it initially. True, the last two companies are confident that the tractor of the future will become electric, and the Japanese tractor will even restore some of the charge using solar panels. Case IH, on the other hand, decided to leave its unmanned tractor with a conventional diesel engine and an overall less futuristic appearance. In any case, all these models are still prototypes, or "concept tractors", if you will. Personally, I doubt that in the near future they will get into real production in this form, rather it is a simple demonstration of technology.

Kubota X Tractor

John Deere Autonomous Electric Tractor

Case IH Autonomous Magnus Concept

The field of agriculture itself is very fond of such undertakings - unlike public roads, there are no oncoming cars and intersections, traffic lights and road signs, pedestrians and other unexpected obstacles in the fields. Unless a wild boar runs through the thickets of corn. But the most important thing is that there is no strict state regulation here, but there is a shortage of personnel for professional machine operators and tractor drivers. These factors spur field owners to unwittingly try new technologies. We should not forget about the traditional advantages of "robotic" workers: they do not get tired, they do not need to sleep, dine or go on vacation. Therefore, there is no doubt that most of the world's agricultural equipment will be on unmanned rails, and, most likely, this will happen much earlier than the ubiquity of autonomous personal vehicles.

Modern technologies at the service of agriculture

Crop production and the Internet of Things

Global trends in the "Internet of things" and "big data" also do not bypass agriculture. They found the best application in the cultivation of various cultivated plants. Computers on modern farms collect information from various sensors located directly "in the fields": sensors for temperature, pressure, light, rain, humidity, soil fertility, etc. After that, the agronomist analyzes it and draws conclusions about the relationship between various crop indicators and external conditions. Unlike manual information collection methods, which are also time-consuming and inefficient, all information is available all the time and does not depend on the human factor. Such a "digitization" of various meteorological data will allow us to analyze both the short-term impact of weather and climatic conditions on crop yields, as well as long-term trends that can only be seen on a scale of several years.

Modern technologies at the service of agriculture

Japanese engineers were among the first to feel the prospects of this technology in agriculture. In the late 2000s, Fujitsu systems were installed as a pilot project on some Japanese farms and wineries, combining an array of basic sensors: temperature, pressure, humidity and light. Information was sent to the control center every 10 minutes, which was enough at the first stage. Subsequently, the farmers who participated in the experiment and analyzed the data were able to improve the performance of their farms on many fronts. Yields increased, the need for the use of pesticides and fungicides decreased, resulting in an increased quality of the harvested crop. Fujitsu appreciated the prospects of this segment and began to actively develop it, now it is one of the largest companies in the field of agronomic "Internet of Things".

Modern technologies at the service of agriculture

Fujitsu weather monitoring system

Another Japanese company called PS Solutions, which is one of Softbank's multiple subsidiaries, developed its plant monitoring system in 2015 with the name e-Kakashi, which is not very pleasant for a Russian-speaking person. The name translates as “electronic scarecrow”, but in fact this system does not scare anyone away, but only monitors the external environment and provides data to the farmer. It differs from the systems of previous generations in that all its sensors are in one compact case, which can be fixed even on a shovel handle in the middle of the field. The built-in accumulator will allow to collect indications within three years. Multiple sensors can create a mesh network to ensure that even the most remote devices remain connected to the system's main gateway. He, in turn, transmits all the collected information to the user through the cellular network. But the main difference of this system is that it not only transmits a raw stream of information about plants and the state of the environment, but also gives advice to the farmer based on this data. Artificial intelligence, that's all.

Modern technologies at the service of agriculture

Now there are already a lot of similar startups, the scope of which is usually denoted by the collective term "precision farming": Agroop, Fieldin, Mothive, Cropx and others. They work plus or minus on the same principle, the differences are only in data transfer technologies and variations in installation methods. Unfortunately, I could not find domestic startups with similar developments. Apparently, a large amount of fertile land and fresh water has not yet given our farmers a reason to think about their most efficient use.

But in another direction of technological crop production, Russian developers have made significant progress - these are automatic mini-beds and greenhouses, which are based on exactly the same principles as the above-described "field" sensors. The difference is in scale and in the fact that they exist in a closed and controlled ecosystem. Such systems are possible at different scales: from home “lockers” for growing greens to industrial greenhouses for tens of hectares for various types of cultivated plants. The vast majority of them are based on the principles of hydroponics - the science of growing plants not in fertile soil, but in a nutrient solution. A striking example of compact systems are the systems of GreenBar and Smartgreener. Companies such as iFarm and UrbaniEco produce automated systems of various sizes: from desktop mini-beds to professional vertical hydroponic systems.

Modern technologies at the service of agriculture

Growing natural vegetables and herbs at home is a rather tedious and complicated process, which is why it does not have many fans. But since it brings quite obvious advantages, then, provided that full-fledged automation is created, such compact crop production systems have every chance of becoming a popular type of home technology. At one time, the refrigerators and microwaves familiar to us were also a kind of "exotic" for the elite, but now they are in almost every home.

Satellites, drones and digital fields

Aerial photography, which thirty years ago was considered a very expensive pleasure and which only the military and large government agencies could afford, has already become a completely ordinary element of our daily life. We use Google and Yandex maps every day 's 2-In-1 Face Powder and have become accustomed to the fact that open access to satellite images of any corner of the globe is a matter of course. From an agricultural point of view, this is an indispensable tool for controlling your land, as well as for exploring potential areas for sowing. But free services update the picture, as a rule, once or twice a year, which is enough for ordinary users, but not for farmers. In addition, their functionality is very poor - apart from simple shooting, there is nothing in them.

Modern technologies at the service of agriculture

Satellite photograph of agricultural fields from Google Maps. You can see the borders of the fields and their relative fullness, but nothing more

Commercial satellites, on the other hand, are able to update the necessary information with a lower frequency, and in addition to simple photographs, they can create spectral images, as well as form a detailed three-dimensional image of the surface topography. Whatever you say, control over crops directly from the “fields” is an important and necessary thing, but in the case of large areas, studying the territory from the air can provide even more detailed information. Fortunately, in the 21st century, it is no longer necessary to send satellites into space to take detailed surveys of the earth, because there are notorious drones. They are much cheaper, easier to launch, and they can get more information, since their flight path is much closer to the ground.

Modern technologies at the service of agriculture

Satellite image with Normalized Differential Vegetation Index (NDVI) superimposed

Modern technologies at the service of agriculture

Aerial photography drone

It is thanks to the UAV that aerial photography began to be actively introduced into agriculture, because not every company will be able to create and send a satellite. But almost every farmer can create (or even buy a ready-made) drone and take it into the air, since the threshold for entering this area is relatively low. Another thing is that getting pictures (even from a satellite, even from a drone) is only part of the task. They still need to be analyzed, to “glue” all the data obtained into a coherent picture and draw some conclusions from it. This is where numerous companies come into play, creating integrated GIS (geographic information systems) solutions for farmers. It would be too long to list them all, so I will only mention a few. One of the market leaders, the Canadian company Farmers Edge, offers an integrated information system FarmCommand. It combines satellite data, local weather data, a special equipment monitoring system and other information. The farmer can track all indicators in a single web interface or even a mobile application, while the service independently combines this data for analysis and issues recommendations based on them.

Modern technologies at the service of agriculture

But still, most of these companies use aerial drones to observe the Earth's surface. For example, the domestic company Geoscan produces not only drones themselves, but also almost all of its components. Unlike the Canadian startup, Geoscan does not integrate other objects of study, except for aerial photographs. However, on the basis of these images, a complex GIS "Sputnik Agro" was created, which allows solving many problems: analysis of crops, counting individual plants (works for sunflowers), studying the terrain and cadastral measurements. What is most interesting, this is one of the few such services that has a free (albeit limited) version.

Modern technologies at the service of agriculture

Conclusion

The field of "agrotech", as it was dubbed in the Russian-speaking press, is just beginning to emerge. The examples of the use of digital technologies described above are far from all the scenarios that exist in agriculture now, let alone the future. For example, the same UAVs are used not only to study the topography of the earth, but also for controlled spraying of plants, and even for planting seeds. Another growing trend in tech farming is automated animal care. Already now there are experiments on the creation of autonomous livestock farms that require virtually no maintenance personnel. Well, automated feeders, drinkers and various animal health tracking systems have been successfully introduced for quite some time.

Modern technologies at the service of agriculture

The pace of development in this area is amazing - in about 15 years, agriculture has turned from a conservative industry into one of the most powerful engines of technological development. According to the forecast of the international consulting company PricewaterhouseCoopers, by 2050 there will be more than 2 billion "smart" agricultural sensors in the world. If the same unmanned vehicles by this time will not yet triumphantly walk around the planet, then in the fields it will certainly become commonplace.

Modern technologies at the service of agriculture

At the same time, I personally am pleased to realize that Russian technologies in this area often do not lag behind Western developments. I risk seeing again the flow of dissatisfied comments from people who a priori have a negative attitude towards everything that happens in their country. This has already happened with a recent article about product labeling systems and many more times before. But so far, “agrotech” in Russia is actively increasing its momentum, and it has a chance to become one of the main world centers of technological agriculture. Well, if you do not agree with this or you have something that you can add to the material, then welcome to the comments.

Modern technologies in the service of agriculture

The topic of unmanned vehicles has been covered on our portal more than once. We have already discussed Uber drones, the controversial Tesla brand, more than once or even twice, as well as the growing trends in improving the "intelligence" of these same drones. The topic is really fertile, and its discussions will not end soon. At the same time, many have heard about the use of unmanned technologies in other areas besides cars: aerial drones, unmanned boats, and even subway trains without a driver. But for some reason, the unmanned topic in the minds of people does not fit with one of the sectors of the economy - this is agriculture. Most people have a stereotype in their heads that “agriculture” is something dirty and uncouth. That a tractor is necessarily a rattling rattletrap with an antediluvian diesel engine, combine operators are rustic village men with minimal education, and all you need to grow cultivated plants is to water and fertilize them.

Modern technologies at the service of agriculture

This is what modern agricultural machinery looks like in the mind of the layman

It is possible that in some parts of the world this point of view is still relevant, but, fortunately, in the civilized world, agriculture has become one of the engines of progress along with high-tech production and the world of electronics. In addition to all kinds of “techs” (medtech, fintech, edtech and others), there is also the term agritech, which means the introduction and use of modern technologies in agriculture, animal husbandry and other sectors of the traditional economy. We will talk about all this today.

Modern technologies at the service of agriculture Modern technologies at the service of agriculture

This is what modern agricultural machinery actually looks like

Autonomous agricultural machinery

Since we are talking about unmanned vehicles, it would be a sin not to mention unmanned agricultural machinery. Its beginnings appeared almost 60 years ago - in 1962, the Dutch engineer Cornelis Sieling created the first autonomous Agri-Robot tractor for plowing fields. Naturally, there was no talk of any electronics at that time - the automatic change of the furrow was implemented by means of two probe-wheels in front and behind. The technology was already quite working, although it was more suitable for regular rectangular fields.

But the lack of economic feasibility and the shortcomings of the then technologies delayed the development of these systems for at least 40 years. In the 2000s, interest in this topic began to revive, and the first steps in creating image recognition software systems only helped this. In 2008, John Deere, one of the world's leading tractor manufacturers, introduced the iTEC Pro system, designed for independent movement of tractors using a GPS signal. Since it is designed to be integrated into modern universal tractors, we are talking not only about automatic plowing, but also about sowing, watering and even mowing. The system exists to this day, while it cannot be called a full-fledged "autopilot" - the presence of a machine operator in the cab is still necessary to control and configure the system. Further development of iTEC Pro led to the emergence of the Machine Sync system, with which the combine and tractor are "synchronized" with the harvest trailer.

However, many other large manufacturers of agricultural machinery now have similar systems. At the Japanese Kubota, it is called AgriRobo and is used for tractors, combines and even for rice planters. Their compatriots from Yanmar also have one. The Germans from Claas created a system with the simple name GPS Pilot, and Case IH, another American tractor company, has a system with the quite simple name Autopilot. Russia also did not stand aside: the Rostselmash plant is actively implementing a similar system called RSM AutoDriver. In general, you will not surprise anyone with such automation of work on the field.

Modern technologies at the service of agriculture

But now the so-called "Level 5 drones" are being actively developed: completely independent machines that do not even require a remote operator. The same Rostselmash began to develop an autonomous harvester back in 2017 together with Cognitive Technologies. Now their offspring often flashes at various agricultural exhibitions, and also undergoes trial tests in several regions of the country.

The previously mentioned Case IH, Kubota and John Deere presented their (rather congenial) visions of the "tractor of the future". Naturally, the tractor must be completely autonomous, and even the cab should not be on it initially. True, the last two companies are confident that the tractor of the future will become electric, and the Japanese tractor will even restore some of the charge using solar panels. Case IH, on the other hand, decided to leave its unmanned tractor with a conventional diesel engine and an overall less futuristic appearance. In any case, all these models are still prototypes, or "concept tractors", if you will. Personally, I doubt that in the near future they will get into real production in this form, rather it is a simple demonstration of technology.

Kubota X Tractor

John Deere Autonomous Electric Tractor

Case IH Autonomous Magnus Concept

The field of agriculture itself is very fond of such undertakings - unlike public roads, there are no oncoming cars and intersections, traffic lights and road signs, pedestrians and other unexpected obstacles in the fields. Unless a wild boar runs through the thickets of corn. But the most important thing is that there is no strict state regulation here, but there is a shortage of personnel for professional machine operators and tractor drivers. These factors spur field owners to unwittingly try new technologies. We should not forget about the traditional advantages of "robotic" workers: they do not get tired, they do not need to sleep, dine or go on vacation. Therefore, there is no doubt that most of the world's agricultural equipment will be on unmanned rails, and, most likely, this will happen much earlier than the ubiquity of autonomous personal vehicles.

Modern technologies at the service of agriculture

Crop production and the Internet of Things

Global trends in the "Internet of things" and "big data" also do not bypass agriculture. They found the best application in the cultivation of various cultivated plants. Computers on modern farms collect information from various sensors located directly "in the fields": sensors for temperature, pressure, light, rain, humidity, soil fertility, etc. After that, the agronomist analyzes it and draws conclusions about the relationship between various crop indicators and external conditions. Unlike manual information collection methods, which are also time-consuming and inefficient, all information is available all the time and does not depend on the human factor. Such a "digitization" of various meteorological data will allow us to analyze both the short-term impact of weather and climatic conditions on crop yields, as well as long-term trends that can only be seen on a scale of several years.

Modern technologies at the service of agriculture

Japanese engineers were among the first to feel the prospects of this technology in agriculture. In the late 2000s, Fujitsu systems were installed as a pilot project on some Japanese farms and wineries, combining an array of basic sensors: temperature, pressure, humidity and light. Information was sent to the control center every 10 minutes, which was enough at the first stage. Subsequently, the farmers who participated in the experiment and analyzed the data were able to improve the performance of their farms on many fronts. Yields increased, the need for the use of pesticides and fungicides decreased, resulting in an increased quality of the harvested crop. Fujitsu appreciated the prospects of this segment and began to actively develop it, now it is one of the largest companies in the field of agronomic "Internet of Things".

Modern technologies at the service of agriculture

Fujitsu weather monitoring system

Another Japanese company called PS Solutions, which is one of Softbank's multiple subsidiaries, developed its plant monitoring system in 2015 with the name e-Kakashi, which is not very pleasant for a Russian-speaking person. The name translates as “electronic scarecrow”, but in fact this system does not scare anyone away, but only monitors the external environment and provides data to the farmer. It differs from the systems of previous generations in that all its sensors are in one compact case, which can be fixed even on a shovel handle in the middle of the field. The built-in accumulator will allow to collect indications within three years. Multiple sensors can create a mesh network to ensure that even the most remote devices remain connected to the system's main gateway. He, in turn, transmits all the collected information to the user through the cellular network. But the main difference of this system is that it not only transmits a raw stream of information about plants and the state of the environment, but also gives advice to the farmer based on this data. Artificial intelligence, that's all.

Modern technologies at the service of agriculture

Now there are already a lot of similar startups, the scope of which is usually denoted by the collective term "precision farming": Agroop, Fieldin, Mothive, Cropx and others. They work plus or minus on the same principle, the differences are only in data transfer technologies and variations in installation methods. Unfortunately, I could not find domestic startups with similar developments. Apparently, a large amount of fertile land and fresh water has not yet given our farmers a reason to think about their most efficient use.

But in another direction of technological crop production, Russian developers have made significant progress - these are automatic mini-beds and greenhouses, which are based on exactly the same principles as the above-described "field" sensors. The difference is in scale and in the fact that they exist in a closed and controlled ecosystem. Such systems are possible at different scales: from home “lockers” for growing greens to industrial greenhouses for tens of hectares for various types of cultivated plants. The vast majority of them are based on the principles of hydroponics - the science of growing plants not in fertile soil, but in a nutrient solution. A striking example of compact systems are the systems of GreenBar and Smartgreener. Companies such as iFarm and UrbaniEco produce automated systems of various sizes: from desktop mini-beds to professional vertical hydroponic systems.

Modern technologies at the service of agriculture

Growing natural vegetables and herbs at home is a rather tedious and complicated process, which is why it does not have many fans. But since it brings quite obvious advantages, then, provided that full-fledged automation is created, such compact crop production systems have every chance of becoming a popular type of home technology. At one time, the refrigerators and microwaves familiar to us were also a kind of "exotic" for the elite, but now they are in almost every home.

Satellites, drones and digital fields

Aerial photography, which thirty years ago was considered a very expensive pleasure and which only the military and large government agencies could afford, has already become a completely ordinary element of our daily life. We use Google and Yandex maps every day 's 2-In-1 Face Powder and have become accustomed to the fact that open access to satellite images of any corner of the globe is a matter of course. From an agricultural point of view, this is an indispensable tool for controlling your land, as well as for exploring potential areas for sowing. But free services update the picture, as a rule, once or twice a year, which is enough for ordinary users, but not for farmers. In addition, their functionality is very poor - apart from simple shooting, there is nothing in them.

Modern technologies at the service of agriculture

Satellite photograph of agricultural fields from Google Maps. You can see the borders of the fields and their relative fullness, but nothing more

Commercial satellites, on the other hand, are able to update the necessary information with a lower frequency, and in addition to simple photographs, they can create spectral images, as well as form a detailed three-dimensional image of the surface topography. Whatever you say, control over crops directly from the “fields” is an important and necessary thing, but in the case of large areas, studying the territory from the air can provide even more detailed information. Fortunately, in the 21st century, it is no longer necessary to send satellites into space to take detailed surveys of the earth, because there are notorious drones. They are much cheaper, easier to launch, and they can get more information, since their flight path is much closer to the ground.

Modern technologies at the service of agriculture

Satellite image with Normalized Differential Vegetation Index (NDVI) superimposed

Modern technologies at the service of agriculture

Aerial photography drone

It is thanks to the UAV that aerial photography began to be actively introduced into agriculture, because not every company will be able to create and send a satellite. But almost every farmer can create (or even buy a ready-made) drone and take it into the air, since the threshold for entering this area is relatively low. Another thing is that getting pictures (even from a satellite, even from a drone) is only part of the task. They still need to be analyzed, to “glue” all the data obtained into a coherent picture and draw some conclusions from it. This is where numerous companies come into play, creating integrated GIS (geographic information systems) solutions for farmers. It would be too long to list them all, so I will only mention a few. One of the market leaders, the Canadian company Farmers Edge, offers an integrated information system FarmCommand. It combines satellite data, local weather data, a special equipment monitoring system and other information. The farmer can track all indicators in a single web interface or even a mobile application, while the service independently combines this data for analysis and issues recommendations based on them.

Modern technologies at the service of agriculture

But still, most of these companies use aerial drones to observe the Earth's surface. For example, the domestic company Geoscan produces not only drones themselves, but also almost all of its components. Unlike the Canadian startup, Geoscan does not integrate other objects of study, except for aerial photographs. However, on the basis of these images, a complex GIS "Sputnik Agro" was created, which allows solving many problems: analysis of crops, counting individual plants (works for sunflowers), studying the terrain and cadastral measurements. What is most interesting, this is one of the few such services that has a free (albeit limited) version.

Modern technologies at the service of agriculture

Conclusion

The field of "agrotech", as it was dubbed in the Russian-speaking press, is just beginning to emerge. The examples of the use of digital technologies described above are far from all the scenarios that exist in agriculture now, let alone the future. For example, the same UAVs are used not only to study the topography of the earth, but also for controlled spraying of plants, and even for planting seeds. Another growing trend in tech farming is automated animal care. Already now there are experiments on the creation of autonomous livestock farms that require virtually no maintenance personnel. Well, automated feeders, drinkers and various animal health tracking systems have been successfully introduced for quite some time.

Modern technologies in the service of agriculture

The topic of unmanned vehicles has been covered on our portal more than once. We have already discussed Uber drones, the controversial Tesla brand, more than once or even twice, as well as the growing trends in improving the "intelligence" of these same drones. The topic is really fertile, and its discussions will not end soon. At the same time, many have heard about the use of unmanned technologies in other areas besides cars: aerial drones, unmanned boats, and even subway trains without a driver. But for some reason, the unmanned topic in the minds of people does not fit with one of the sectors of the economy - this is agriculture. Most people have a stereotype in their heads that “agriculture” is something dirty and uncouth. That a tractor is necessarily a rattling rattletrap with an antediluvian diesel engine, combine operators are rustic village men with minimal education, and all you need to grow cultivated plants is to water and fertilize them.

Modern technologies at the service of agriculture

This is what modern agricultural machinery looks like in the mind of the layman

It is possible that in some parts of the world this point of view is still relevant, but, fortunately, in the civilized world, agriculture has become one of the engines of progress along with high-tech production and the world of electronics. In addition to all kinds of “techs” (medtech, fintech, edtech and others), there is also the term agritech, which means the introduction and use of modern technologies in agriculture, animal husbandry and other sectors of the traditional economy. We will talk about all this today.

Modern technologies at the service of agriculture Modern technologies at the service of agriculture

This is what modern agricultural machinery actually looks like

Autonomous agricultural machinery

Since we are talking about unmanned vehicles, it would be a sin not to mention unmanned agricultural machinery. Its beginnings appeared almost 60 years ago - in 1962, the Dutch engineer Cornelis Sieling created the first autonomous Agri-Robot tractor for plowing fields. Naturally, there was no talk of any electronics at that time - the automatic change of the furrow was implemented by means of two probe-wheels in front and behind. The technology was already quite working, although it was more suitable for regular rectangular fields.

But the lack of economic feasibility and the shortcomings of the then technologies delayed the development of these systems for at least 40 years. In the 2000s, interest in this topic began to revive, and the first steps in creating image recognition software systems only helped this. In 2008, John Deere, one of the world's leading tractor manufacturers, introduced the iTEC Pro system, designed for independent movement of tractors using a GPS signal. Since it is designed to be integrated into modern universal tractors, we are talking not only about automatic plowing, but also about sowing, watering and even mowing. The system exists to this day, while it cannot be called a full-fledged "autopilot" - the presence of a machine operator in the cab is still necessary to control and configure the system. Further development of iTEC Pro led to the emergence of the Machine Sync system, with which the combine and tractor are "synchronized" with the harvest trailer.

However, many other large manufacturers of agricultural machinery now have similar systems. At the Japanese Kubota, it is called AgriRobo and is used for tractors, combines and even for rice planters. Their compatriots from Yanmar also have one. The Germans from Claas created a system with the simple name GPS Pilot, and Case IH, another American tractor company, has a system with the quite simple name Autopilot. Russia also did not stand aside: the Rostselmash plant is actively implementing a similar system called RSM AutoDriver. In general, you will not surprise anyone with such automation of work on the field.

Modern technologies at the service of agriculture

But now the so-called "Level 5 drones" are being actively developed: completely independent machines that do not even require a remote operator. The same Rostselmash began to develop an autonomous harvester back in 2017 together with Cognitive Technologies. Now their offspring often flashes at various agricultural exhibitions, and also undergoes trial tests in several regions of the country.

The previously mentioned Case IH, Kubota and John Deere presented their (rather congenial) visions of the "tractor of the future". Naturally, the tractor must be completely autonomous, and even the cab should not be on it initially. True, the last two companies are confident that the tractor of the future will become electric, and the Japanese tractor will even restore some of the charge using solar panels. Case IH, on the other hand, decided to leave its unmanned tractor with a conventional diesel engine and an overall less futuristic appearance. In any case, all these models are still prototypes, or "concept tractors", if you will. Personally, I doubt that in the near future they will get into real production in this form, rather it is a simple demonstration of technology.

Kubota X Tractor

John Deere Autonomous Electric Tractor

Case IH Autonomous Magnus Concept

The field of agriculture itself is very fond of such undertakings - unlike public roads, there are no oncoming cars and intersections, traffic lights and road signs, pedestrians and other unexpected obstacles in the fields. Unless a wild boar runs through the thickets of corn. But the most important thing is that there is no strict state regulation here, but there is a shortage of personnel for professional machine operators and tractor drivers. These factors spur field owners to unwittingly try new technologies. We should not forget about the traditional advantages of "robotic" workers: they do not get tired, they do not need to sleep, dine or go on vacation. Therefore, there is no doubt that most of the world's agricultural equipment will be on unmanned rails, and, most likely, this will happen much earlier than the ubiquity of autonomous personal vehicles.

Modern technologies at the service of agriculture

Crop production and the Internet of Things

Global trends in the "Internet of things" and "big data" also do not bypass agriculture. They found the best application in the cultivation of various cultivated plants. Computers on modern farms collect information from various sensors located directly "in the fields": sensors for temperature, pressure, light, rain, humidity, soil fertility, etc. After that, the agronomist analyzes it and draws conclusions about the relationship between various crop indicators and external conditions. Unlike manual information collection methods, which are also time-consuming and inefficient, all information is available all the time and does not depend on the human factor. Such a "digitization" of various meteorological data will allow us to analyze both the short-term impact of weather and climatic conditions on crop yields, as well as long-term trends that can only be seen on a scale of several years.

Modern technologies at the service of agriculture

Japanese engineers were among the first to feel the prospects of this technology in agriculture. In the late 2000s, Fujitsu systems were installed as a pilot project on some Japanese farms and wineries, combining an array of basic sensors: temperature, pressure, humidity and light. Information was sent to the control center every 10 minutes, which was enough at the first stage. Subsequently, the farmers who participated in the experiment and analyzed the data were able to improve the performance of their farms on many fronts. Yields increased, the need for the use of pesticides and fungicides decreased, resulting in an increased quality of the harvested crop. Fujitsu appreciated the prospects of this segment and began to actively develop it, now it is one of the largest companies in the field of agronomic "Internet of Things".

Modern technologies at the service of agriculture

Fujitsu weather monitoring system

Another Japanese company called PS Solutions, which is one of Softbank's multiple subsidiaries, developed its plant monitoring system in 2015 with the name e-Kakashi, which is not very pleasant for a Russian-speaking person. The name translates as “electronic scarecrow”, but in fact this system does not scare anyone away, but only monitors the external environment and provides data to the farmer. It differs from the systems of previous generations in that all its sensors are in one compact case, which can be fixed even on a shovel handle in the middle of the field. The built-in accumulator will allow to collect indications within three years. Multiple sensors can create a mesh network to ensure that even the most remote devices remain connected to the system's main gateway. He, in turn, transmits all the collected information to the user through the cellular network. But the main difference of this system is that it not only transmits a raw stream of information about plants and the state of the environment, but also gives advice to the farmer based on this data. Artificial intelligence, that's all.

Modern technologies at the service of agriculture

Now there are already a lot of similar startups, the scope of which is usually denoted by the collective term "precision farming": Agroop, Fieldin, Mothive, Cropx and others. They work plus or minus on the same principle, the differences are only in data transfer technologies and variations in installation methods. Unfortunately, I could not find domestic startups with similar developments. Apparently, a large amount of fertile land and fresh water has not yet given our farmers a reason to think about their most efficient use.

But in another direction of technological crop production, Russian developers have made significant progress - these are automatic mini-beds and greenhouses, which are based on exactly the same principles as the above-described "field" sensors. The difference is in scale and in the fact that they exist in a closed and controlled ecosystem. Such systems are possible at different scales: from home “lockers” for growing greens to industrial greenhouses for tens of hectares for various types of cultivated plants. The vast majority of them are based on the principles of hydroponics - the science of growing plants not in fertile soil, but in a nutrient solution. A striking example of compact systems are the systems of GreenBar and Smartgreener. Companies such as iFarm and UrbaniEco produce automated systems of various sizes: from desktop mini-beds to professional vertical hydroponic systems.

Modern technologies at the service of agriculture

Growing natural vegetables and herbs at home is a rather tedious and complicated process, which is why it does not have many fans. But since it brings quite obvious advantages, then, provided that full-fledged automation is created, such compact crop production systems have every chance of becoming a popular type of home technology. At one time, the refrigerators and microwaves familiar to us were also a kind of "exotic" for the elite, but now they are in almost every home.

Satellites, drones and digital fields

Aerial photography, which thirty years ago was considered a very expensive pleasure and which only the military and large government agencies could afford, has already become quite an ordinary element of our daily life. We use Google and Yandex maps every day 's 2-In-1 Face Powder and have become accustomed to the fact that open access to satellite images of any corner of the globe is a matter of course. From an agricultural point of view, this is an indispensable tool for controlling your land, as well as for exploring potential areas for sowing. But free services update the picture, as a rule, once or twice a year, which is enough for ordinary users, but not for farmers. In addition, their functionality is very poor - apart from simple shooting, there is nothing in them.

Modern technologies at the service of agriculture

Satellite photograph of agricultural fields from Google Maps. You can see the borders of the fields and their relative fullness, but nothing more

Commercial satellites, on the other hand, are able to update the necessary information with a lower frequency, and in addition to simple photographs, they can create spectral images, as well as form a detailed three-dimensional image of the surface topography. Whatever you say, control over crops directly from the “fields” is an important and necessary thing, but in the case of large areas, studying the territory from the air can provide even more detailed information. Fortunately, in the 21st century, it is no longer necessary to send satellites into space to take detailed surveys of the earth, because there are notorious drones. They are much cheaper, easier to launch, and they can get more information, since their flight path is much closer to the ground.

Modern technologies at the service of agriculture

Satellite image with Normalized Differential Vegetation Index (NDVI) superimposed

Modern technologies at the service of agriculture

Aerial photography drone

It is thanks to the UAV that aerial photography began to be actively introduced into agriculture, because not every company will be able to create and send a satellite. But almost every farmer can create (or even buy a ready-made) drone and take it into the air, since the threshold for entering this area is relatively low. Another thing is that getting pictures (even from a satellite, even from a drone) is only part of the task. They still need to be analyzed, to “glue” all the data obtained into a coherent picture and draw some conclusions from it. This is where numerous companies come into play, creating integrated GIS (geographic information systems) solutions for farmers. It would be too long to list them all, so I will only mention a few. One of the market leaders, the Canadian company Farmers Edge, offers an integrated information system FarmCommand. It combines satellite data, local weather data, a special equipment monitoring system and other information. The farmer can track all indicators in a single web interface or even a mobile application, while the service independently combines this data for analysis and issues recommendations based on them.

Modern technologies at the service of agriculture

But still, most of these companies use aerial drones to observe the Earth's surface. For example, the domestic company Geoscan produces not only drones themselves, but also almost all of its components. Unlike the Canadian startup, Geoscan does not integrate other objects of study, except for aerial photographs. However, on the basis of these images, a complex GIS "Sputnik Agro" was created, which allows solving many problems: analysis of crops, counting individual plants (works for sunflowers), studying the terrain and cadastral measurements. What is most interesting, this is one of the few such services that has a free (albeit limited) version.

Modern technologies at the service of agriculture

Conclusion

The field of "agrotech", as it was dubbed in the Russian-speaking press, is just beginning to emerge. The examples of the use of digital technologies described above are far from all the scenarios that exist in agriculture now, let alone the future. For example, the same UAVs are used not only to study the topography of the earth, but also for controlled spraying of plants, and even for planting seeds. Another growing trend in tech farming is automated animal care. Already now there are experiments on the creation of autonomous livestock farms that require virtually no maintenance personnel. Well, automated feeders, drinkers and various animal health tracking systems have been successfully introduced for quite some time.

Modern technologies at the service of agriculture

The pace of development in this area is amazing - in about 15 years, agriculture has turned from a conservative industry into one of the most powerful engines of technological development. According to the forecast of the international consulting company PricewaterhouseCoopers, by 2050 there will be more than 2 billion "smart" agricultural sensors in the world. If the same unmanned vehicles by this time will not yet triumphantly walk around the planet, then in the fields it will certainly become commonplace.

Modern technologies at the service of agriculture

At the same time, I personally am pleased to realize that Russian technologies in this area often do not lag behind Western developments. I risk seeing again the flow of dissatisfied comments from people who a priori have a negative attitude towards everything that happens in their country. This has already happened with a recent article about product labeling systems and many more times before. But so far, “agrotech” in Russia is actively increasing its momentum, and it has a chance to become one of the main world centers of technological agriculture. Well, if you do not agree with this or you have something that you can add to the material, then welcome to the comments.

Modern technologies in the service of agriculture

The topic of unmanned vehicles has been covered on our portal more than once. We have already discussed Uber drones, the controversial Tesla brand, more than once or even twice, as well as the growing trends in improving the "intelligence" of these same drones. The topic is really fertile, and its discussions will not end soon. At the same time, many have heard about the use of unmanned technologies in other areas besides cars: aerial drones, unmanned boats, and even subway trains without a driver. But for some reason, the unmanned topic in the minds of people does not fit with one of the sectors of the economy - this is agriculture. Most people have a stereotype in their heads that “agriculture” is something dirty and uncouth. That a tractor is necessarily a rattling rattletrap with an antediluvian diesel engine, combine operators are rustic village men with minimal education, and all you need to grow cultivated plants is to water and fertilize them.

This is what modern agricultural machinery looks like in the mind of the layman

It is possible that in some parts of the world this point of view is still relevant, but, fortunately, in the civilized world, agriculture has become one of the engines of progress along with high-tech production and the world of electronics. In addition to all kinds of “techs” (medtech, fintech, edtech and others), there is also the term agritech, which means the introduction and use of modern technologies in agriculture, animal husbandry and other sectors of the traditional economy. We will talk about all this today.

This is what modern agricultural machinery actually looks like

Autonomous agricultural machinery

Since we are talking about unmanned vehicles, it would be a sin not to mention unmanned agricultural machinery. Its beginnings appeared almost 60 years ago - in 1962, the Dutch engineer Cornelis Sieling created the first autonomous Agri-Robot tractor for plowing fields. Naturally, there was no talk of any electronics at that time - the automatic change of the furrow was implemented by means of two probe-wheels in front and behind. The technology was already quite working, although it was more suitable for regular rectangular fields.

But the lack of economic feasibility and the shortcomings of the then technologies delayed the development of these systems for at least 40 years. In the 2000s, interest in this topic began to revive, and the first steps in creating image recognition software systems only helped this. In 2008, John Deere, one of the world's leading tractor manufacturers, introduced the iTEC Pro system, designed for independent movement of tractors using a GPS signal. Since it is designed to be integrated into modern universal tractors, we are talking not only about automatic plowing, but also about sowing, watering and even mowing. The system exists to this day, while it cannot be called a full-fledged "autopilot" - the presence of a machine operator in the cab is still necessary to control and configure the system. Further development of iTEC Pro led to the emergence of the Machine Sync system, with which the combine and tractor are "synchronized" with the harvest trailer.

However, many other large manufacturers of agricultural machinery now have similar systems. At the Japanese Kubota, it is called AgriRobo and is used for tractors, combines and even for rice planters. Their compatriots from Yanmar also have one. The Germans from Claas created a system with the simple name GPS Pilot, and Case IH, another American tractor company, has a system with the quite simple name Autopilot. Russia also did not stand aside: the Rostselmash plant is actively implementing a similar system called RSM AutoDriver. In general, you will not surprise anyone with such automation of work on the field.

Kubota X Tractor

John Deere Autonomous Electric Tractor

Case IH Autonomous Magnus Concept

The field of agriculture itself is very fond of such undertakings - unlike public roads, there are no oncoming cars and intersections, traffic lights and road signs, pedestrians and other unexpected obstacles in the fields. Unless a wild boar runs through the thickets of corn. But the most important thing is that there is no strict state regulation here, but there is a shortage of personnel for professional machine operators and tractor drivers. These factors spur field owners to unwittingly try new technologies. We should not forget about the traditional advantages of "robotic" workers: they do not get tired, they do not need to sleep, dine or go on vacation. Therefore, there is no doubt that most of the world's agricultural equipment will be on unmanned rails, and, most likely, this will happen much earlier than the ubiquity of autonomous personal vehicles.

Crop production and the Internet of Things

Global trends in the "Internet of things" and "big data" also do not bypass agriculture. They found the best application in the cultivation of various cultivated plants. Computers on modern farms collect information from various sensors located directly "in the fields": sensors for temperature, pressure, light, rain, humidity, soil fertility, etc. After that, the agronomist analyzes it and draws conclusions about the relationship between various crop indicators and external conditions. Unlike manual information collection methods, which are also time-consuming and inefficient, all information is available all the time and does not depend on the human factor. Such a "digitization" of various meteorological data will allow us to analyze both the short-term impact of weather and climatic conditions on crop yields, as well as long-term trends that can only be seen on a scale of several years.

Japanese engineers were among the first to feel the prospects of this technology in agriculture. In the late 2000s, Fujitsu systems were installed as a pilot project on some Japanese farms and wineries, combining an array of basic sensors: temperature, pressure, humidity and light. Information was sent to the control center every 10 minutes, which was enough at the first stage. Subsequently, the farmers who participated in the experiment and analyzed the data were able to improve the performance of their farms on many fronts. Yields increased, the need for the use of pesticides and fungicides decreased, resulting in an increased quality of the harvested crop. Fujitsu appreciated the prospects of this segment and began to actively develop it, now it is one of the largest companies in the field of agronomic "Internet of Things".

Fujitsu weather monitoring system

Another Japanese company called PS Solutions, which is one of Softbank's multiple subsidiaries, developed its plant monitoring system in 2015 with the name e-Kakashi, which is not very pleasant for a Russian-speaking person. The name translates as “electronic scarecrow”, but in fact this system does not scare anyone away, but only monitors the external environment and provides data to the farmer. It differs from the systems of previous generations in that all its sensors are in one compact case, which can be fixed even on a shovel handle in the middle of the field. The built-in accumulator will allow to collect indications within three years.Multiple sensors can create a mesh network to ensure that even the most remote devices remain connected to the system's main gateway. He, in turn, transmits all the collected information to the user through the cellular network. But the main difference of this system is that it not only transmits a raw stream of information about plants and the state of the environment, but also gives advice to the farmer based on this data. Artificial intelligence, that's all.

Now there are already a lot of similar startups, the scope of which is usually denoted by the collective term "precision farming": Agroop, Fieldin, Mothive, Cropx and others. They work plus or minus on the same principle, the differences are only in data transfer technologies and variations in installation methods. Unfortunately, I could not find domestic startups with similar developments. Apparently, a large amount of fertile land and fresh water has not yet given our farmers a reason to think about their most efficient use.

But in another direction of technological crop production, Russian developers have made significant progress - these are automatic mini-beds and greenhouses, which are based on exactly the same principles as the above-described "field" sensors. The difference is in scale and in the fact that they exist in a closed and controlled ecosystem. Such systems are possible at different scales: from home “lockers” for growing greens to industrial greenhouses for tens of hectares for various types of cultivated plants. The vast majority of them are based on the principles of hydroponics - the science of growing plants not in fertile soil, but in a nutrient solution. A striking example of compact systems are the systems of GreenBar and Smartgreener. Companies such as iFarm and UrbaniEco produce automated systems of various sizes: from desktop mini-beds to professional vertical hydroponic systems.

Growing natural vegetables and herbs at home is a rather tedious and complicated process, which is why it does not have many fans. But since it brings quite obvious advantages, then, provided that full-fledged automation is created, such compact crop production systems have every chance of becoming a popular type of home technology. At one time, the refrigerators and microwaves familiar to us were also a kind of "exotic" for the elite, but now they are in almost every home.

Satellites, drones and digital fields

Aerial photography, which thirty years ago was considered a very expensive pleasure and which only the military and large government agencies could afford, has already become a completely ordinary element of our daily life. We use Google maps and Yandex Women\'s 2-In-1 Face Powder every day and are already accustomed to the fact that open access to satellite images of any corner of the globe is something taken for granted. From an agricultural point of view, this is an indispensable tool for controlling your land, as well as for exploring potential areas for sowing. But free services update the picture, as a rule, once or twice a year, which is enough for ordinary users, but not for farmers. In addition, their functionality is very poor - apart from simple shooting, there is nothing in them.

Aerial photography, which thirty years ago was considered a very expensive pleasure and which only the military and large government agencies could afford, has already become a completely ordinary element of our daily life. We use Google and Yandex maps every day Women\'s 2-In-1 Face Powder Women\'s 2-In-1 Face Powder and are already accustomed to the fact that open access to satellite images of any corner of the globe is something taken for granted. From an agricultural point of view, this is an indispensable tool for controlling your land, as well as for exploring potential areas for sowing. But free services update the picture, as a rule, once or twice a year, which is enough for ordinary users, but not for farmers. In addition, their functionality is very meager - apart from simple shooting, there is nothing in them.

Satellite photograph of agricultural fields from Google Maps. You can see the borders of the fields and their relative fullness, but nothing more

Commercial satellites, on the other hand, are able to update the necessary information with a lower frequency, and in addition to simple photographs, they can create spectral images, as well as form a detailed three-dimensional image of the surface topography. Whatever you say, control over crops directly from the “fields” is an important and necessary thing, but in the case of large areas, studying the territory from the air can provide even more detailed information. Fortunately, in the 21st century, it is no longer necessary to send satellites into space to take detailed surveys of the earth, because there are notorious drones. They are much cheaper, easier to launch, and they can get more information, since their flight path is much closer to the ground.

Satellite image with Normalized Differential Vegetation Index (NDVI) superimposed

Aerial photography drone

It is thanks to the UAV that aerial photography began to be actively introduced into agriculture, because not every company will be able to create and send a satellite. But almost every farmer can create (or even buy a ready-made) drone and take it into the air, since the threshold for entering this area is relatively low. Another thing is that getting pictures (even from a satellite, even from a drone) is only part of the task. They still need to be analyzed, to “glue” all the data obtained into a coherent picture and draw some conclusions from it. This is where numerous companies come into play, creating integrated GIS (geographic information systems) solutions for farmers. It would be too long to list them all, so I will only mention a few.One of the market leaders, the Canadian company Farmers Edge, offers an integrated information system FarmCommand. It combines satellite data, local weather data, a special equipment monitoring system and other information. The farmer can track all indicators in a single web interface or even a mobile application, while the service independently combines this data for analysis and issues recommendations based on them.

But still, most of these companies use aerial drones to observe the Earth's surface. For example, the domestic company Geoscan produces not only drones themselves, but also almost all of its components. Unlike the Canadian startup, Geoscan does not integrate other objects of study, except for aerial photographs. However, on the basis of these images, a complex GIS "Sputnik Agro" was created, which allows solving many problems: analysis of crops, counting individual plants (works for sunflowers), studying the terrain and cadastral measurements. What is most interesting, this is one of the few such services that has a free (albeit limited) version.

Conclusion

The field of "agrotech", as it was dubbed in the Russian-speaking press, is just beginning to emerge. The examples of the use of digital technologies described above are not even all the scenarios that exist in agriculture now, let alone the future. For example, the same UAVs are used not only to study the topography of the earth, but also for controlled spraying of plants, and even for planting seeds. Another growing trend in tech farming is automated animal care. Already now there are experiments on the creation of autonomous livestock farms that require virtually no maintenance personnel. Well, automated feeders, drinkers and various animal health tracking systems have been successfully introduced for quite some time.

The pace of development in this area is amazing - in about 15 years, agriculture has turned from a conservative industry into one of the most powerful engines of technological development. According to the forecast of the international consulting company PricewaterhouseCoopers, by 2050 there will be more than 2 billion "smart" agricultural sensors in the world. If the same unmanned vehicles by this time will not yet triumphantly walk around the planet, then in the fields it will certainly become commonplace.

At the same time, I personally am pleased to realize that Russian technologies in this area often do not lag behind Western developments. I risk seeing again the flow of dissatisfied comments from people who a priori have a negative attitude towards everything that happens in their country. This has already happened with a recent article about product labeling systems and many more times before. But so far, “agrotech” in Russia is actively increasing its momentum, and it has a chance to become one of the main world centers of technological agriculture. Well, if you do not agree with this or you have something that you can add to the material, then welcome to the comments.