The most obvious scenario for the use of quadcopters in the agricultural sector is the monitoring of the state of the fields. It is about tracking the location of employees and work equipment, protecting against the entry of harmful animals, creating regularly updated accurate maps of pastures and forecasting the volume of crops in a given territory. In the USA, drones are even used for planting forests - an aircraft hovering over a bed in a strictly specified place and “shoots” seeds into the soil with a force enough to penetrate the seeds to the required depth.
All this allows you to take existing technologies to the next step: with the development of the power and range of UAV flights, as well as an increase in the capacity of their batteries, it will be possible to install additional equipment on the body of the drone:
More advanced cameras will allow for automatic aerial photography with an analysis of nitrogen, moisture, waterlogging and waterlogging soils - previously this required resorting to the services of third-party companies surveying from satellite or small private aviation.
The use of human labor in agricultural enterprises has ceased to be profitable; classes, categories, and subcategories of robotic machines have already formed in this industry. Robots for use in the agricultural sector belong to the class of “field robots”, which, in turn, is included in the category of service robots. This category is divided into narrowly specialized subcategories such as milking systems, agro-bots, robots for farming, etc. Today, the number of farms using automated farming systems is growing steadily. In the category of robots for agriculture, milking robots and autonomous tractors are the most common. Let's take a closer look at each of these subcategories.
Milking systems have been outstripping all other categories of field robots for more than a year, and this trend will continue in the near future. Most of the systems existing today operate on the principle of “voluntary milking, i.e. the cow herself approaches the robot at the right time. The productivity of one such robot is 1500-2000 liters a day for 75 cows. As for the cost of equipment for automation of dairy farms, equipping the enterprise with 120-140 heads will cost up to 150 million rubles plus 150-250 thousand rubles a year for the costs of servicing one unit. Similarly, chicken egg incubators are extensively used and are expected to grow poultry production.
Robotic tractors boast a wide variety of shapes and sizes, they are classified by functionality:
Tankless cars. They are less expensive due to the lack of space for the driver. Management is carried out remotely.
Fully or partially autonomous tractors. In this case, human participation is not required at all, but semi-autonomous tractors are more common - such drones allow you to deliver the tractor to the field in the traditional way, after which the driver leaves the cab and the tractor does its own thing. Another option for using partially autonomous tractors is to work in the “man-robot” tandem: while the driver controls one tractor manually, the second, parallel-moving machine, repeats the actions of the leading tractor.
Kits for installing autopilot systems. Surely you have heard more than once about startups developing installations that allow you to quickly and inexpensively turn a regular car into a drone. Here, everything is almost the same; the creation of such solutions is carried out by respected brands with many years of experience in the international market.
New batteries will bring the carrying capacity of even relatively small quadcopters to a new level, saving farmers from the need to purchase additional equipment and hire a large number of employees. Experts estimate that the use of drones reduces landing costs by 85%. Saving time is also important: in an hour, a compact and fast device can sow 10 square meters. km of fields, a person will need it all day. In addition, the large capacity of the batteries also means the possibility of a long flight to very distant pastures to control animal grazing and search for individuals who have lost their way from the herd.
Naturally, like any technology, drones are not without drawbacks - first of all, it is high cost, vulnerability to difficult weather conditions and the inability to collect and process fruits. But in the foreseeable future, the copter for agriculture will become as necessary as an assistant as a combine or multivator. Today, drones are used only by a small area of agricultural land but given the total number of enterprises in the agricultural sector, the figure is impressive.
Disputes about the advisability of interfering in the genetic code of agricultural plants and animals have been going on for many years. Be that as it may, to date there simply are no other ways to grow plants that are resistant to viruses. Changing the genotype helps to solve the problem of not only viruses but also more dangerous pests - insects. So, scientists from Belgium and the USA have successfully introduced the genome of the earthen bacterium into the potato cell, thanks to which vegetables were able to synthesize insecticides of bacterial origin, which made this culture resistant to attacks of the Colorado potato beetle; they managed to do the same trick with cotton, saving it from the threat of destruction by a cotton scoop.
But neither drones, nor smart sensors, nor autonomous tractors can do without fast mobile communications. The main advantage of the fifth-generation networks is minimal delays, and if ordinary users are waiting for the mass introduction of 5G due to high data transfer speeds, then this technology is interesting for business customers primarily because of the possibility of implementing IoT, unmanned vehicles and comfortable remote control of remote equipment.
All these concepts fit perfectly into modern agriculture, especially the notorious Internet of Things - today in agricultural enterprises thousands of varieties of sensors are used that monitor the age of animals, soil composition, the presence of disease in plants, the location of each animal on the farm, the state of products in stock, the degree of harvest to the collection, the approach of precipitation, etc. According to the forecasts of the analytical department of Business Insider, the number of smart sensors in the global agro-industrial complex will increase from 30 million in 2015 to 75 million in 2020.
Unfortunately, at the moment, farmers have to use proprietary short-range systems to monitor the state of the economy. Due to the lack of 5G networks (or other alternative technology of high-speed wireless communication), the suppliers of such systems do not keep pace with the growing demand and do not care too much about the quality of the products, deliberately limiting the service life of their equipment. However, even if you forget about the big delays of current mobile networks, the vast majority of farms are located outside large population centers, far beyond the coverage of LTE - the situation will be corrected by the ubiquitous location of 5G base stations, which we promise mobile operators.
In modern agriculture, AI is no less common than in smartphones and computers. First of all, it is used to analyze the appearance of plants: with the help of thousands of downloaded photos, artificial intelligence learns to identify problems with the future crop in a timely manner, and this applies to both micrographs for more accurate diagnosis and large-scale satellite and UAV surveys to identify the extent of the disease or insect pests at a time when an “epidemic” could not be avoided. Other cases of AI use in agriculture are not yet so widespread, these are transport management, scheduling automatic soil irrigation and fertilizer spraying, monitoring animal health. Here’s more on the future of farming trends.
All of the above technologies are relatively new to the agricultural sector, unlike traditional agriculture, we do not have decades of experience yet, but now we can say that farming has been steadily moving towards getting rid of human factors. However, this is not the case when you can say “laziness is the engine of progress”. No, everything is much more prosaic: according to UN forecasts, by 2050 the Earth’s population will come close to 10 billion people, and 2/3 of them will live in megacities, that is, in addition to the need to somehow feed these 10 billion, there will be few to grow food - that's why today fabulous amounts are invested in cheaper, automated and increased agricultural productivity.