AIoT Devices Help Farmers Spot Weeds, Increase Yield

AI-Driven Precision Farming, Robotics and Drones Optimize Resources - Sustainably
AIoT Devices Help Farmers Spot Weeds, Increase Yield
John Deere recently announced enhanced AI-based weed-sensing technology for its sprayers. (Image: John Deere)

Agricultural experts forecast that farmers will need to produce about 60% more crops by 2050 to keep pace with global population growth. To help meet this demand, a growing number of farm tech companies are combining two emerging technologies - artificial intelligence and the internet of things - to help farmers solve age-old problems such as irrigation and weed control.

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This convergence of sensors, GPS, autonomous tractors and drones, and AI - also known as AIoT - is enabling precision farming and intelligent management of every aspect of cultivation - from soil health to crop monitoring to harvest.

Farmers, always looking for higher yields and more sustainable agriculture, are expected to triple their use of artificial intelligence and double their adoption of robotics within the next five to 10 years, according to a survey of 503 farmers from five countries on agriculture in transition, conducted by Continental in collaboration with Innofact AG.

'Profound Change in Agriculture'

Precision farming, which employs GPS tracking, sensors and data analysis, optimizes field management, conserves resources such as fertilizer and water, protects soil health and enhances overall farm efficiency and sustainability. These advancements allow farmers to optimize resources and enhance overall farm productivity while minimizing environmental impact.

"We are currently experiencing a profound change in agriculture, driven primarily by connectivity, robotics and artificial intelligence," said Ismail Dagli, head of the autonomous mobility and commercial vehicles business unit at Continental. "At the end of this transformation, agriculture will not only be more efficient but also more environmentally friendly."

The survey shows significant regional and size-based disparities in digital solution adoption. While farmers in countries such as Germany, France and the U.S. exhibit higher levels of digitalization, counterparts in Japan still primarily perform agricultural work without digital tools.

Smaller farms tend to be less digitalized than larger ones, highlighting the need for tailored support, training and solutions across the agricultural sector, said Mario Branco, head of Off-Highway at Continental.

Another big challenge is gathering the right data. Agritech firm SupPlant uses data on weather patterns, soil and plant growth to provide AI-based recommendations to farmers. The company relies on data from sensors in the soil and plants to advise farmers on watering schedules but according to Revital Kramer, chief technology officer at Supplant, "Collecting data is hard."

Deploying sensors in fields poses technical challenges, Kramer said, but sharing the findings with farmers does too. "We have to deal with this data with caution to make it accurate and use it properly," Kramer said.

AI-Powered Weed Sensing Tech

Robotics is a promising technology in agriculture, with applications ranging from automated harvesting to weed control. The survey found that the growth in robotics over the next decade will be driven by the need for labor-saving solutions and increased efficiency in farm operations.

AI tech is part of John Deere's latest See & Spray technology, which uses AI-powered weed-sensing capabilities to activate spray nozzles when boom-mounted cameras detect targeted weeds. The system also gathers data on sprayed areas and pesticide use, offering valuable insights into crop health, the company said.

John Deere's latest 9RX line of tractors offers an autonomous-ready option that enables seamless transition from manual to autonomous operation, empowering farmers to embrace self-driving at their own pace.

The autonomous-ready package includes all essential hardware, software and safety features anticipated for future functionality. To enable full autonomy, farmers need only supplement the package with a perception system that incorporates cameras and vision processing units.

Drones: Accurate to Within a Centimeter

Drones offer another potential AIoT use case in farming. Drones are increasingly used for crop monitoring, pest detection and irrigation management. Continental researchers say drones are growing in popularity, and farmers are using them to enhance crop management practices and optimize resource allocation.

ABZ Innovation's agricultural drones, developed and tested in partnership with the University of Győr in Hungary, are addressing the U.K.'s farm labor shortage while enhancing sustainability and efficiency in crop production. These drones enable cost-effective and precise field and orchard spraying that reduces chemical use by up to 50% and water consumption by a remarkable 95%.

The drones' flights are automated through advanced technology developed by ABZ Innovation. Using precise navigation systems, these drones can navigate with centimeter-level accuracy to ensure optimal coverage of fields or orchards.

The weed sprayer operates with this automation by using a Controlled Droplet Application spraying system. This system, combined with optimized propeller airflow, allows for efficient and targeted application of chemicals or herbicides onto crops.

ABZ's drones incorporate sensors to gather real-time data on crop health, soil moisture levels and environmental conditions. This data can then be analyzed to give farmers actionable insights, such as identifying areas that need treatment or adjusting spraying parameters based on specific conditions.

IoT devices also may facilitate communication between the drones and ground control stations, allowing for seamless coordination and monitoring of operations.

"We've rigorously tested these drones and are impressed with their precision and efficiency. Our research shows a substantial increase in spray coverage while significantly reducing the use of resources," a spokesperson from the University of Győr said. "This technology is not just about addressing labor shortages; it's about driving U.K. agriculture toward a more sustainable and technologically advanced future."

About the Author

Prajeet Nair

Prajeet Nair

Assistant Editor, Global News Desk, ISMG

Nair previously worked at TechCircle, IDG, Times Group and other publications, where he reported on developments in enterprise technology, digital transformation and other issues.

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