In agriculture too, AI is preparing its revolution

Agriculture is one of the most concrete examples of “practical” AI, and could power the first 100% autonomous farms before 2030.

In the rural world, John Deere is one of the most well-known names thanks to its tractors, combines and other agricultural equipment that are ubiquitous in the countryside. The brand is distinguished by its recognizable green color among a thousand, but also by the performance of its machines which have been providing proud services to operators for two centuries.

But like all specialist equipment manufacturers, the work of John Deere engineers has evolved considerably over the past few decades. Indeed, its products have gone far beyond the stage of “simple” agricultural machinery; today they are real gems of mechanical engineering, but also software, with particular emphasis on artificial intelligence.

The firm is also one of the precursors at this level. In November 1999, the firm acquired NavCom Technology, a start-up specializing in satellite navigation. The objective: to develop its own satellite guidance system for its agricultural machinery. She managed to develop a system accurate to within a few centimeters.

A new generation of ultra-high-tech agricultural machinery

And if this association seems absurd to you, it was a real revelation for John Deere. The concept was not perfect, but it had the effect of an electric shock to the staff of the brand, which immediately made it one of its top priorities. In a few years, it changed its entire roadmap to initiate a major transition that would take its machines into a new dimension.

A philosophy that has caught the eye of some prestigious actors. So much so that in 2018, JD even associated with NASA’s legendary Jet Propulsion Laboratory, to whom we owe the very first GPS system in the world! Together, they have developed a system that allows remote control and monitoring of a machine with a live satellite view, all with formidable precision and enhanced by a large amount of data that can be used in real time.

A small revolution which laid the foundations for a “new era” based on autonomous machines at the cutting edge of technology. In any case, this is what emerges from an interview with Jorge Heraud, Vice President of Automation at John Deere, by TheNextWeb. It describes a philosophy based on automated routines at the service of precision agriculture, optimized at all levels thanks to artificial intelligence.

Agriculture and AI, a marriage that makes sense

Eventually, these machines will be able to handle almost all of this work without human intervention. This is obviously a huge time saver. This AI-based approach will also allow machines to determine with formidable precision the ideal date for sowing or harvesting a particular plot to optimize its yield over the long term.

And it’s not just about quantity. There is also a qualitative dimension to take into account. Machines are already capable of performing some of these tasks with impressive precision, well beyond what a farmer’s time constraints allow him to achieve with a traditional machine.

They will make it possible to optimize the yield of each plot by providing them with a tailor-made treatment. They will also be able to take into account the strain cultivated, the location of the field, and any other external environmental parameter such as the presence of parasites or invasive species.

Some manufacturers are already working on systems that can identify and then get rid of unwanted plants or insects selectively and in real time with an AI system similar to facial recognition. An AI of this type would also allow these machines to deliver phytosanitary products with surgical precision. This would allow the use of microscopic doses to maximize effectiveness while minimizing environmental impact.

And these are just a few isolated examples. This is already a real revolution compared to agriculture a few decades ago, and everything indicates that this dazzling progress will continue even more. And that’s good news, because the stakes are just high.

The food situation is changing, and the industry must keep pace

Everyone is aware of the fact that the management of food resources is a determining factor for the future of humanity. However, these resources are directly threatened by the increase in population, the impact of Man on his environment, as well as global warming and its consequences.

The population is increasing visibly; the available space is melting like snow in the sun; at the same time, more and more formerly arable land is becoming unusable due to global warming. There is therefore an urgent need to optimize production down to the smallest detail.

And there is no doubt that machines will be very important allies to support farmers in this transformation of this industry which often does not reward their work at its fair value. It is therefore no coincidence that dozens of other companies such as Ecorobotics, Naio Technologies or Agrobot have already invested in this segment.

A “practical” AI at the service of farmers and humanity

Eventually, we will therefore see fully autonomous farms flourish, as there are already lots of them in science fiction. And based on the TNW interview, it looks like that future is a lot closer than we think. Heraud affirms without hesitation that the 100% automatic farms of the future “will arrive before the end of the decade”.

In any case, this interview is also a good illustration of the fact that artificial intelligence is not not just a nebulous and abstract discipline reserved for little geniuses in white coats. It is also a great tool that can help humanity address some age-old problems very effectively. We are not talking about fundamental research here, but about a side that we can no longer “practice” and already relatively mature AI that will one day be used to feed humanity, no more and no less.

We just have to wait until 2030 to see if Heraud’s prediction will come to fruition. But what is certain is that by then we will probably see new behemoths of “practical AI”, and presumably in the relatively near future. The future of this discipline promises to be decidedly fascinating.

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In agriculture too, AI is preparing its revolution


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