July 13, 2018

What is Augmented Farming?

What we consider as the future of Agriculture

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What is Augmented Farming?

Taking root around 12,000 years ago, farming soon became the foundation upon which all endeavors of human civilization depended. For most of that time, agriculture relied on crude implements such as hoes and scythes to keep people fed.

However, as the global population increased and people congregated into towns and cities, the need for more food production remained unabated. Even with the advent of mechanized agriculture, demand has always outstripped supply and a multitude have remained malnourished or even starving.

Given this insatiable demand for food and the increasing fragility of the environment, there is an obvious need to develop better technologies that can optimize the quantity and quality of every acre, while minimizing the chemicals used in production. Thus, the concept of Augmented Farming was born.

Coined by Augmenta, an Ag-tech company specializing in precision agriculture, Augmented Farming is a farm production management concept based on: ‍

1/ accurate high definition data

2/ close range, site specific data attainment

3/ real-time processing to make data immediately actionable

4/ hyper-spectral imagery that can digitally model fields

To explain, ‍think of Augmented Farming as a combination of Augmented Reality and precision agriculture. Mobile app games such as Nintendo's 'Pokémon Go' incorporate live, real-world camera images with computer generated characters and have the player interact in real-time to create a novel (and somewhat amusing) user experience. Precision agriculture is based on the collection, processing and analysis of digital data in order to better manage resources to improve sustainability, while enhancing productivity and profitability. The concept behind Augmented Farming is to use the data obtained from hi-res, real-world camera images and make it immediately actionable, allowing the automatic execution of precision agriculture principles in real-time.

Older tools in the precision agriculture toolbox are simply incapable of doing this. Aside from the expense and the logistics involved, drones and satellites are confined to a data collection role. Their cameras do take images (even hi-res ones, in the case of drones), but they have to be processed off-site and need human interpretation before the information can be applied. Active sensors are able to act on the data they obtain, but they are operation specific and error-prone due to low resolution. Those detecting chlorophyll reflectance, for instance, often misinterpret rocky or water-logged field areas as requiring the maximum amount of fertilizer. In fact, such areas should not have fertilizer applied at all.

When it comes to remote sensing and precision agriculture, resolution is king. Only cameras can offer farmers resolution enough to detect the appearance of fungus, create biomass indices, determine leaf patterns/number, and gauge plant height etc. Only cameras can track the spatial behavior of plants over the time in crop production systems. Augmented Farming is a quantum leap forward because it uses the hi-res capability of cameras, but processes the information they provide in such a way so as to make them intelligent.

This technological feat lies at the core of the Augmenta System. Retrofitted to the cabin roof of any ordinary tractor, it sports an array of 4K 12 pixel/cm, 5-band hyper-spectral cameras, the data from which is processed using machine vision techniques, imaging spectroscopy, bespoke algorithms and Artificial Intelligence. While it 'scans' a 40 meter wide area in front of the tractor as the farmer drives along, images are spilt it into different fields of view and composites are processed to generate its own vegetative index and prescription maps on-the-fly. This data is then used to automatically apply variable rates of input (e.g. fertilizer) via actuated VRA equipment (i.e. spreaders/sprayers).

The upshot is that the Augmenta System can significantly reduce waste and promote sustainability. Input costs are kept to a minimum, while crop uniformity is promoted and yield potential maximized – all of which is an agreeable combination which can translate into financial benefits for the farmer.

The fact that Augmented Farming is camera-based also gives it the distinct advantage of being able to deal with a variety of crop and operation types. Not only can the Augmenta System do (solid/liquid) N-VRA (and Multi N-VRA), but it can be used to apply PGR plant growth regulators and Harvest Aid/Defoliant as well. More services are released as they are developed, with Green on Brown selective spraying being next out of the R&D pipeline.

Back in the day, before mechanization and when agriculture was on a much smaller scale, farmers had intimate knowledge of every inch of their fields. Accordingly, they could be judicious with their resources and precise with their inputs. This ability has long been lost in modern times, to the detriment of the environment. However, Augmented Farming harks back to those days for the very first time, as it makes fully-automatic mechanized precision agriculture a long awaited reality.

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