While pesticide spraying protects crops against pests, weeds, and diseases, it can also be harmful to neighbouring crops and wildlife. This unwanted movement of pesticides, known as spray drift, however, could potentially be trackable, thanks to a project developed between Monash University's Faculty of Information Technology, Bard AI, PentaQuest, and AgriSci. The project combines an artificial intelligence model and augmented reality to enable farmers to see a real-time visual representation of the possible spray drift on their phones. The presentation also allows farmers to view the impact the spray drift could have on neighbouring crops if spraying were to occur during poor conditions, such as when there are strong wind speeds. Farmers are also able use to the system to understand "what if" scenarios to improve their spray plan and understand the potential impact of spray drift. "Information alone does not change behaviour and the use of advanced technology doesn't ensure the adoption of new platforms by farmers.
Agerris, an Australia-based robotics and AI platform for agriculture, announced over the weekend that it has raised $6.5 million (AUSD) in seed funding from Uniseed, Carthona Capital and BridgeLane Group. The startup was founded by Professor Salah Sukarrieh and began as research at the Australian Centre for Field Robotics at the University of Sydney (which is also a partner in Uniseed). From the looks of it, Agerris is building a modular robotics and AI platform that has broad applications for both plant and livestock farmers. According to a University of Sydney news post, Agerris has two main products. The "Swagbot" can autonomously monitor and identify weed issues, detect food and crops through computer vision, as well as herd livestock.
Salah Sukkarieh is Professor of Robotics and Intelligent Systems at the University of Sydney, and Director of Research and Innovation at the Australian Centre for Field Robotics. He has worked on autonomous systems for ports, mines, aerospace, and, most recently, agriculture. He recalls that when he started working on drone technology there were not many aerospace companies in Australia working on drones, and those that were were not interested in drones for agriculture or the environment as the business case didn't stack up financially. Australia's size and the remoteness of many rural areas have also been deterrents. There is strong interest from the agriculture industry in the use of robotics and automation to support farmers, and he is surprised by the number of students who are interested in working on these projects.
For a change, Kevin Sanders has decided to let someone, or more accurately, something else count the apples in his orchard. This isn't the first time his idyllic farm down in Australia's Yarra Valley has played host to robots and their handlers, so Sanders knows what to expect. Moving soundlessly down the corridors between trees, an electric robot will scan each plant, identifying individual fruit and flowers. An algorithm is then used to classify and count the apples in each image and provide a yield estimation, a critical figure for farmers that will inform Sanders' plans to manage his orchards and the harvest. A fourth generation farmer, Sanders and his brothers have an interest in innovation that has created an unconventional operation.
Farmers, put your feet up. Autonomous robots are already being used to inspect crops, count yields and dig up weeds – now they are shepherds too. Sheep and cattle farms in the Australian outback are vast as well as remote. For example, the country's most isolated cattle station, Suplejack Downs in the Northern Territory, extends across 4000 square kilometres and takes 13 hours to reach by car from the nearest major town, Alice Springs. The livestock on these far-flung farms are monitored infrequently – sometimes only once or twice a year – meaning they often fall ill or get into trouble without anyone knowing.