Kingston University’s foray into 5G technology for ‘smart’ farming would allow intelligent drones to monitor crops and livestock and could well help to thrust the agricultural world further into the ‘third green revolution’.
“It would involve using drones with on-board visual and infrared cameras, supported by a computer vision system allowing them to detect when an animal is sick, trapped, injured or missing and also to monitor, count and control crops and spot signs of disease or weeds,” explained Professor Paolo Remagnino from Kingston University’s Robot Vision team (RoViT).
5G goes green
At present, a drone would need massive amounts of processing power on board to fly over farmland for several hours at a time. And yet, this would be hugely impractical because of how much it would weigh. The project team will investigate how 5G could help to provide consistent, high-speed connectivity.
Using the speed of a 5G network, the team at Kingston will develop a way for all of that processing to be done, in real time, in a control station somewhere on the farm (such as a barn), or anywhere else, instead of embedded within the drone.
During the project, the RoViT team will employ a computer vision system that uses 5G enabled technology to provide a real time assessment of the visual data, using a form of machine learning called deep learning. This uses artificial neural networks to mimic the way the brain makes connections between pieces of information without being specifically programmed and would allow the drones to learn normal behavior and appearance of livestock and crops and identify irregularities.
A righteous revolution
In this new green revolution, farmers move will beyond the previous revolutions of breeding and genetics, and increasingly rely on the new digital era to guarantee food security. And, this move may well be more a necessity than a luxury. In a 2017 report [PDF], Beecham Research warns that the way farmers produce their food must radically change to feed the growing world population of the future.
Indeed, the United Nations Food and Agriculture Programme has noted that global food production must increase by 70% by 2050 to meet the demands of a growing population.
“This means that to optimize crop yields and reduce waste, the agriculture and farming industries will need to rely heavily on IoT and machine-to-machine (M2M) technologies moving forward,” explained report co-author and Beecham chief research officer Saverio Romeo. “GPS services, sensors and big data will all become essential farming tools in the coming years and are clearly set to revolutionize agriculture.”
While the report concedes that precision agriculture cannot solve all problems – unpredictable weather events, and a demanding and changing legislative environment to name but a few – it is optimistic that smart farming can help farmers control aspects of farming better and optimize results.
Beecham adds: “Sensor-based technologies and decision support systems play a vital role in the post farm-gate supply chain. This includes the detection of food fraud, identifying and dealing with bacterial and other contamination, mitigating spoilage and food waste, cold chain monitoring and meeting the growing need for traceability from farm to the consumer.”
The research by Kingston University is part of a £2.1 million ($2.7 million) government-funded project called the 5G Rural Integrated Testbed (5GRIT), a partnership of nine SMEs and universities developing and testing innovative uses of 5G. The project span a range of rural applications, from agriculture to tourism as well as connecting poorly-served communities, and will involve using TV white space technology to test the potential for shared spectrum radio to deliver 5G services to rural areas.
5GRIT is supported by Department for Culture Media and Sport through the 5G Testbeds Program.
Other proofs of concept
TM Forum’s Catalyst proof-of-concept program is also studying the use of drone technology in agriculture, looking specifically at how communications service providers can play a role in delivering drones as a service.
“There’s a very positive social benefit with precision farming,” says Dr. Lester Thomas, chief systems architect at Vodafone Group. “It’s eco-friendly; you’re reducing chemical usage; and you’re increasing the yield of crops.”
It’s also an innovative revenue opportunity for network operators. While some farmers are already using drone technology, Vodafone wants to take it step further, automating drone flights as a platform-based service that uses 5G network slicing to ensure redundancy and quality of service. Check out this article to lean more.
Written by Arti Mehta, editor of TM Forum Inform | Original story here
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