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SciFi solutions to challenges in agriculture

The AHDB Smart Agriculture Conference focused on smart technology encompassing engineering, sensors, decision support systems and robotics. It brought together scientists, researchers and engineers across multiple disciplines to stimulate discussion about technological developments that could help to address the challenges in farming.

One of the highlights was the keynote from Prof Salah Sukkarieh, Director of Research and Innovation at the Australian Centre for Field Robotics, University of Sydney.

Sukkarieh spoke about the state of R&D in the field robotics and automated systems. His talk covered the benefits of robotics – from reduction in labor and maintenance costs, to increasing predictability due to the availability of data collected during the operation of robotic systems. He demonstrated examples of using robotic systems in cereal production, diary, and horticulture.

You can watch a video of a robot developed at the University of Sydney that helps farmers to herd cows (You Tube video https://youtu.be/x69ezNzP2y0). Sukkarieh commented that wider adoption of robotics in agriculture may lead to changes the agricultural practices. With increased use of automated systems in agriculture there is a need for tighter standards in agricultural practices. He also discussed the ethics issues of introducing robotic systems in agriculture and development of new forms of agri-food systems.  

Dr Jonathan Leach, Quantum Imaging Hub, Heriot-Watt University showed how imaging could help to resolves some of the challenges in agriculture. He demonstrated a technique that enables to locate objects that are obscured from vision.

Prof Daniel Berckmans, Head of Measure, Model and Manage Bio-responses Division, University of Leuven spoke about challenges in monitoring animals on large farms. Increase in number of animals per farm leads to substantial welfare and health problems, environmental, social and economic impacts. He demonstrated an example of real time sound analysis in infected pigs that can help to detect sick animals and increase the precision in administering treatment. Another example was on monitoring drinking behaviour in pigs - as an indicator of health. 

There were several talks and a discussion about the collection and use of data in agriculture, and the need for a more intelligent platform for collecting data on farm. Speakers argued that more data processing and analysts technologies need to be developed to allow for better decision-making. The amount of data collected and used requires new business models as well.

Benjamin Cave, Trainer at Open Data Institute, brought up the subject of data sharing in agriculture and discussed the interplay between Big Data, Open Data, and Personal Data. There are a lot of benefits in making agricultural data open to everyone. Data can be valuable to neighbouring farmers, researchers, NGOs, and communities.

Prof Richard Tiffin, Chief Scientist, Centre of Agricultural Informatics and Metrics of Sustainability explained the role of the new Centre in bringing together different users of the data and creating a platform for converting data into useful information or an application.

During the Q&A session the panellists and audience discussed the challenges of Open Data and the need for building trust in data curation. In the afternoon session speakers discussed and demonstrated different applications of bio-inspired robotics and artificial intelligence - for example - robots used for pollination, pest and weed control – and the emerging trends - long-term autonomy, new technologies for energy, new algorithms to optimize design and increase efficiency and profitability, reduce emissions and waste.

KTN co-organised this event together with AHDB and Paul Meakin of KTN (photographed - left) chaired a session on role of Data.

KTN facilitated a networking session on robotics, sensors, data, and applications, to stimulate interactions between delegates by posting what they could offer or what are their challenges in adopting modern technology in agriculture.

All presentations will be made available via the Smart Ag website in the coming days along with Conference videos, so please check the website for updates and an image gallery. You can also join LinkedIn network and stay connected with conference delegates and other industry experts – please follow the link here.

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