Turfgrass research and management comprises a specialized discipline that has evolved to a state of elegance. It takes significant training and mentorship to hone the craft. The practice is becoming highly competitive and data oriented. Leading local practitioners find themselves stretched thin during the busy season. So, it is no surprise that superintendents, product managers, landscapers, and environmental scientists are turning to Artificial Intelligence (AI) to fine tune insights, spend less time walking the grounds, and multiply their expertise.
Artificial intelligence allows farmers to spray weeds while keeping the crop untouched. With crop prices in the dumpster and the world's population growing among a changing climate, artificial intelligence is becoming a life-saving measure for many farmers. From automated planting and harvesting to unmanned vehicles for cultivation and soil sampling, AI has begun to make it more cost efficient for producers to do their job. One of the largest roadblocks is herbicides. According to a 2016 University of Illinois study, the chemical prices are on the rise and pose a big threat to a farmer's bottom line.
The Green Revolution during the 1950s and 1960s remarkably drove up the global food production around the world, saving a billion people from starvation. The revolution led to the adoption of new technologies like high-yielding varieties (HYVs) of cereals, chemical fertilizers and agro-chemicals, better irrigation and mechanization of cultivation methods. India followed suite and adopted the use of hybrid seeds, machine, fertilisers and pesticides. While these practices solved the food shortage problem, they created some problems too in terms of excessive use of fertilisers and pesticides, depletion of ground-water, soil degradation etc. These problems were exacerbated by lack of training to use modern technology and awareness about the correct usage of chemicals etc.
The aging adage, "there's an app for that," is evolving into, "there's a robot for that." More and more automation is finding its way to the market for household chores like cleaning floors, and now that innovation is in farmer's fields with Odd.Bot, an automatic weeding robot. Odd.Bot made an appearance at the Consumer Electronics Show (CES) in Las Vegas last month with an informational booth and the weed-plucking device on display. Martijn Lukaart, Founder and CEO, explains that Odd.Bot is currently intended for use in organic farming fields to make the weed-pulling process easier for large farms who currently do all the work by hand. Many large-scale farmers have already invested in a platform that allows workers to lay face down on a bed as they are propelled through the rows of crops.
Cities around the world are getting smarter. Already, street lights in places like San Diego are turning off, and conserving energy, when vehicles and pedestrians aren't around. Soon, connected garbage cans will tell waste haulers when they need to be emptied, optimizing collection routes. Smart buildings will notify maintenance staff of impending repair needs. And parking spots will find you, instead of the other way around.
UK artificial intelligence company Exscientia has added another big pharma company to its partner roster, with Bayer seeking to use its platform to find new cardiovascular and cancer drugs. Bayer is pledging up to €240 million ($266 million) in upfront fees, ongoing research funding and clinical milestone payments under the terms of the three-year deal. The collaboration will use AI to accelerate discovery of small molecule drug candidates against targets in oncology and cardiovascular disease, with Bayer claiming rights to the compounds and Dundee-based Exscientia eligible for royalties on sales if they reach the market. Cancer and heart disease are at the forefront of Bayer's R&D focus along with women's health, haematology and ophthalmology. For eight-year-old Exscientia, Bayer joins a growing list of drugmakers who see its AI platform as a way to accelerate drug discovery and improve drug development productivity, potentially trimming years off the current 12 to 15 year cycle from early research to marketed product.
Farmers may soon have an alternative to spraying their fields with chemicals, as Small Robot Company and RootWave, two UK-based agritech startups, today announced a partnership to develop a high-precision robot that can kill weeds with a zap of electricity. Small Robot has already developed a series of small, agricultural robots, called Tom, Dick and Harry, which can automate some of the routine tasks of farming. Tom, a scouting robot similar to the Mars Rover, for example, uses computer vision to map the weeds in a field, covering about 20 hectares a day. Dick, a weeding robot, can already remove unwanted plants with either a micro-dose of pesticide or by physically crushing them, but the next stage will be to combine this with technology from RootWave, which destroys weeds by with an electric current, essentially boiling them from the inside out. "Farmers are really desperate for an alternative to the chemical control of weeds," says Sam Watson Jones, the chief executive of Small Robot Company.
Agricultural fields are no less than a battlefield. Irrespective of terrain, geography and type, crops have to compete against scores of different weeds, species of hungry insects, nematodes and a broad array of diseases. Weeds, or invasive plants, aggressively compete for soil nutrients, light and water, posing a serious threat to agricultural production and biodiversity. Weeds directly and indirectly result in tremendous losses to the farm sector, which convert to billions each year worldwide. To combat these challenges, the farm sector is looking at Artificial Intelligence (AI) based solutions.
Standing onstage in an ornate conference room at the Delta Bessborough Hotel in downtown Saskatoon, former Saskatchewan premier Dr. Grant Devine pitched the agri-food industry on a new idea: a wheat tube. More specifically, a hypothetical hyperloop Devine says could fire shipments of wheat from Moose Jaw to Langley, B.C. at hundreds of kilometres an hour. He says students at the University of Saskatchewan, where he is a professor, had priced the idea at around $18 billion. "You'd load it like you would any other hopper car, load it in the capsule and -- zoom! -- it's out there in a matter of hours," Devine said. Dr. Grant Devine speaks at the AIC2019 conference in Saskatoon, SK on Wednesday, November 6, 2019.