Edge computing has already begun to make its mark on a variety of different industries across the planet. From manufacturing and distribution to healthcare and retail services, there seems to be few places left in which the presence of some form of edge computing cannot be felt. One of the areas in which edge computing is beginning to transform the landscape is farming and agriculture.
As we move into an age in which technology is becoming increasingly interconnected with both our infrastructure and our work and personal lives, there are various reasons as to why the adoption of new, cutting edge innovations such as edge computing, automation and artificial intelligence technologies. When you consider some of the challenges we face today, and those we will face in the not so distant future, utilizing technologies such as these in an industry as essential to us all as farming and agriculture makes perfect sense.
In this article, we’ll be looking at five edge computing use cases within farming and agriculture and detailing how they work and what potential benefits they could bring. All of the scenarios mentioned will be taken from real-world examples that are actively being developed or deployed within an agricultural or smart farming environment.
1) Video Analytics
Smart farming all about collecting the right data and using it to optimize your resource-planning and operation. Artificial Vision technologies using artificial intelligence are making waves in the agriculture sector just like they are in any other. Smart Agriculture is a major use case for vision-based automation and data analytics applications, driven by drones and vision based harvesting, weeding and so on. Deploying compute capabilities using ventless industrial PC’s at the edge allows for on-site analytics and quick access to graphic-heavy data and analytics.
Besides edge computing devices, deployment of 4G/LTE/5G connectivity is another key factor in evolution of high-resolution visual data collection in remote environment. Industrial Communication Gateways with integrated LTE connectivity offer a great onsite compute platform along with cellular communication with cloud.
2) Environmental Monitoring
One of the biggest advantages that edge computing has brought to farming and agriculture over the past few years is the ability to remotely monitor different aspects of a farm’s agricultural operations. Networks of sensors, ranging from several sporadically placed sensors to thousands of connected devices monitoring aspects such as soil, weather and humidity and temperature conditions as well as acidity and pH levels.
Edge computing allows for the data necessary in delivering such solutions to be generated and collected much closer to the source while also enabling some data processing operations to be performed in the edge devices themselves. Allowing farmers and agricultural workers detailed insights about their operational environments is a big selling point with any new technology, and edge computing is no different.
While neither robotics technologies or artificial intelligence systems have quite given us the android companions science fiction has predicted for so long, we are now getting to a point in time where such robotic iterations don’t seem so much like science fiction anymore and appear to us more as feasible possibilities.
While robotics has been an active part of many industries for decades now, car manufacturing, for example, it has also been slow to gain traction elsewhere. With the help of edge computing and IoT device networks, this is no longer the case.
Within agriculture, the recent emergence of smart farming frameworks has promoted the use of edge computing and Internet of Things (IoT) systems devices, and laid the groundwork to enable IoT-driven robotics to be developed for smart farms. These systems are capable of being programmed to perform automated tasks such as picking vegetables as well as spraying plants and crops, with more applications currently being developed.
The use of virtualization, automation, and Big Data have been the key drivers for what has become known as the fourth industrial revolution, and so it is no surprise that automation is playing a growing role in many smart farming and agricultural enterprises. As previously mentioned, automated robotics, as well as soil injections, heaters, and lighting can all be utilised through the use of edge computing and automation systems.
When coupled with the various remote monitoring applications and software now available to smart farms and agricultural enterprises, automation can become a powerful tool to farmers. The many benefits of automation continue to grow as do its applications within smart farming and, with systems such as 5G wireless networks and powerful machine learning algorithms also currently being developed, it seems automation’s role in smart farming and agriculture is just beginning.
5) Vertical Farming
We as a species live on a planet of finite resources, and one of those finite resources is farmable land. Soil degradation is a growing problem around the world and the amount of farmable land we have is, unfortunately, slowly decreasing. In response to this growing crisis, scientists and farmers from around the world have developed what has become known as vertical farming. Vertical farming involves using the data collected from a network of IoT sensors and devices to optimize the growing of food and plants without the need for farm land.
In vertical farms for example, moisture levels are controlled with a network of sensors that constantly monitor a mist that surrounds the plant. Using edge computing, much of the data processing involved in such operations can be done on the edge devices themselves, without the need to be sent to the cloud, further adding to the benefits of such systems within farming environments.
While we continue to move into the Fourth Industrial Revolution, analytics technologies, automation, 5G, and AI and machine learning technologies will all begin to become more prominent and integrated into smart farms and agriculture. As we’ve seen over the course of this article, this will be in large part thanks to the foundations laid by edge computing.