The evolution of agriculture 4.0: all the news about robots, drones and AI in service of farming
Today, agriculture 4.0 uses new technologies to carry out operations, prevention and monitoring. Let’s look at out how this sector is evolving with the innovative projects presented during the latest edition of Maker Faire Rome 2023.
Agriculture has always been a key sectors for human survival, but over the years it has been forced to transform itself to meet ever-changing global challenges. We are experiencing a new era of agriculture thanks to the introduction of advanced technologies that are changing its processes, efficiency and outcomes. Technologies like robots, drones and artificial intelligence are changing the face of the industry and together are making farming increasingly sustainable and efficient. This transformation is known as Agriculture 4.0, and it is paving the way to new frontiers for all agricultural producers.
In this article, we will look at the new technologies changing agriculture and examine the challenges they face, the ambitious projects striving to overcome them, and what numbers can be expected in the industry’s near future.
Robotics and AI: necessary allies in agriculture
The challenge that lies on the horizon for the agricultural sector is whether we can feed a world population that will exceed nine billion by 2050 using innovative and sustainable solutions. Robotics and artificial intelligence have emerged as key to tackling this challenge. One of their advantages is the ability to automate and improve farming processes while improving product quality and decreasing the impact on the environment. Agriculture is one of the sectors in which robotics is gaining the most momentum. In 2020, about 25,000 agricultural robots were sold according to the International Federation of Robotics (IFR). The market is set to grow exponentially. This figure testifies to the crucial importance of robotics and artificial intelligence for agriculture in the future, addressing global food and environmental challenges.
Automation in the most intense farming processes
The introduction of IoT technologies in greenhouses has revolutionized agriculture, enabling the collection of vast amounts of environmental and crop data, as well as the training of computers to automate production processes. The real breakthrough, however, lies in applying these artificial intelligence and machine learning capabilities directly to robots, enabling them to operate autonomously in those greenhouses. This scenario has become a reality thanks to rapid technological development. In fact, robots in agriculture are moving beyond their traditional post-harvest use. At Maker Faire Rome 2023, HORTObot is one interesting project in this field that was exhibited in the LIFE pavilion, and was discussed in this article. Today, they are used in various stages of the agricultural production cycle, from planting, harvesting, growth, supervision to plant health monitoring, pruning, the application of plant protection products and fertilizers and the packaging and storage of products. The harvesting stage is one of the greatest challenges of automation in agriculture, as each vegetable can vary in the degree of ripeness. A robot harvester must be able not only to detect the produce within the plants, but also to assess its degree of ripeness and harvest it without damaging it. These challenges require the integration of several technological processes into a single machine that can move nimbly within a greenhouse. The latest generation of agricultural robots are equipped with sophisticated sensory systems and built with soft and flexible materials, allowing for gentle handling of produce. In addition to autonomous robots, another interesting innovation is the introduction of smaller and lighter collaborative robots, known as cobots. They are designed to work in synergy with human workers, supporting them in the more repetitive and higher health risk activities, while ensuring that high standards of quality and safety are maintained.
AI and IoT make greenhouses smart
Smart greenhouses integrated with IoT and AI are gaining popularity in Agriculture 4.0. With sensors and machine learning algorithms, these greenhouses create an optimal controlled environment for plant growth. Robots inside the greenhouses constantly monitor plant conditions, automatically adjusting temperature, lighting and irrigation. An interesting example is Ploovium, a project exhibited at Maker Faire Rome 2023. It is an advanced preventive irrigation planning solution. The software knows when to irrigate, and the smart and precise app learns the water behavior of the soil and communicates 5 days in advance, when to irrigate and how much water to give to each field. Ploovium combines the use of data analytics, artificial intelligence, big data and sensors as well as mechanical actuators.
The monitoring of plant health
New technologies are also revolutionizing plant disease and pest management. Advanced sensors can identify early signs of problems, enabling early intervention. Agricultural robots can detect and remove diseased or infested plants, limiting the spread of problems and reducing the need for chemical pesticides. Another virtuous example we saw during Maker Faire Rome is Elaisian, a precision agriculture service that enables disease prevention in olive groves, vineyards and almond orchards. The system is based on SSDs related to pest management and SSDs related to satellite imagery. This enables farmers to reduce phytosanitary treatments and optimize fertilization and irrigation. This technology is based on the installation of weather stations in the field connected to an app where notifications and alerts on pathogen development are sent. Through the use of proprietary algorithms they are able to calculate the development of pathogens and plants, which, when correlated, allow them to calculate the infection rate of pathogens with extreme accuracy
Zero waste in cultivation
Lastly, we should also mention Girasole, the first IoT network using AI for precision agriculture, fire and animal welfare. The system consists of a network of sunflower-shaped wireless IoT sensors equipped with a photovoltaic panel and internal battery. These devices are configured to monitor specific applications, and the collected data is transmitted to the cloud system where it is processed by algorithms in order to generate forecasts that can be viewed on the app. One of the possible uses of the app is, for example, to support farmers in reducing the waste of water used for irrigation, reducing fertilizer and treatments, improving productivity and efficiency of their crops.
Figures and forecasts for the future
Artificial intelligence and robotics are pioneering the future for agriculture 4.0, revolutionizing traditional approaches. In a few years, this new perspective is expected to impact around 10 percent of arable land in Italy. Investment in these new technologies is growing steadily, promising to transform the industry. According to the International Federation of Robotics, the number of agricultural robots in use will increase significantly in the coming years. Estimates predict a global agricultural robot business of $20.3 billion by 2025, with an annual growth rate of 34.5 percent. These technologies are becoming increasingly popular around the world, with Japan leading the way in research and development.
However, there are still challenges to overcome, such as the high initial cost for a clean transition to new tech or the requirement of special skills to manage them. Agriculture is experiencing a revolution, paving the way for more efficient, sustainable, and high-quality food production, and we saw it with our own eyes thanks to Maker Faire Rome 2023.
Maker Faire Rome – The European Edition has been committed since its very first editions to make innovation accessible and usable to all, with the aim of not leaving anyone behind. Its blog is always updated and full of opportunities and inspiration for makers, makers, startups, SMEs and all the curious ones who wish to enrich their knowledge and expand their business, in Italy and abroad.
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