Robotic tractors and geo-tagged cows could represent farming’s future


Robotic tractors and geo-tagged cows could be the future of farming as the agriculture industry meets the Internet of Things (IoT).


By Matthew Gooding, Cambridge News

Industry body Agri-Tech East, which represents firms working in the agriculture and technology sectors, held its latest pollinator event, entitled The Internet of (agri-tech) Things at St John's Innovation Centre in Cambridge last week.

Backed by Microsoft Research, the event saw delegates hear from experts on what the future of the industry might look like.

First up was Matthew Bailey of Cambridge firm NWave Technologies, which provides hardware and software to enable IoT connections, and has been heavily involved in the development of Weightless-N, a communication standard for the IoT.
He said water usage was a big issue facing farming, and that increased deployment of sensors could help increase efficiency.

"We have to use technology to optimise the use of water, because many areas of the world are facing real challenges with changes in precipitation," he said. "A project in Georgia, USA, is using NWave moisture sensors to monitor soil on a farm, and has reduced water usage by 40% as well as increasing crop yields."

Alastair Taylor, chief executive of the Institute of Agricultural Engineers, told the audience that a Combine Harvester has two or three times more sensors than the average Formula One car, which by anyone's standards is, er, quite a lot of sensors.

"Farmers are often perceived as 'straw-sucking yokels', and the challenge is to show people that the industry has moved on from some of the technology that was in use 75 years ago," he said.

"I think the future could include more use of autonomous vehicles. I'm talking about small tractors that you could carry about under your arm, then release so that it would automatically water a crop."

The final speaker was Adrian Segens of Cambridge firm RedBite, which wants to undertake the substantial task of creating what he termed a "Facebook of things". This would involve giving everything connected to the internet a unique identifier.

How would this work in agriculture? Well, Adrian said that in future cows and pigs could all have a URL of their own.

"Most cows are already tagged, so it wouldn't take much to add a sensor or QR code to that," he said. "Scanning the code could take you directly to a page with all the animal's information, from it's veterinary history to its breeding information. The same sort of system could work with machinery, which you could tag with service information."

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