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Drones, agriculture and the road that lies ahead

You have seen cars go autonomous. You have also seen delivery fleets get automated with the help of drones.

Now you will see how the agricultural-sector is getting autonomous. Don’t worry, this technology won’t put any farmers out of their livelihoods, in fact, this will enhance everything from the food coming on your plate to the efficiency with which it is being cultivated.

What I am talking about is the integration of modern information and communication technologies with agriculture.

There is also a general term for it which is thrown around a lot, and you may have heard it too.

It’s called the Internet of Things, or the IoT. It is just a fancy term which refers to the hardware which can be controlled using a smartphone, in many cases remotely from any location on the planet, through the Internet.

Now let me throw light on this from an Indian farmer’s point of view. Their woes are plentiful and pretty valid at the same time. What’s simply beautiful is that each of these problems are dealt with ingeniously using modern day tech. Once you take a look at these gizmos, it’s almost scary to notice that every stage has a tailor-made automated solution for assistance.

So, if you tend to tinker around with your Raspberry pies and Arduinos for days, chances are you can invent something which may eventually be used in the frontlines.

So, let’s get going.

Starting-off with irrigation, a Gurgaon based start-up Energy Bots Pvt Ltd has launched a GSM based three-phase IoT device, which gives farmers the ability to control watering-times remotely, just by giving a missed-call or sending a message to the device.

As claimed by their product specialist Parth Bhatt, Energy Bots have developed this GSM operated microcontroller which uses various sensors to evaluate certain parameters like humidity level, moisture content, temperature and soil type. This data is then relayed to the central console which controls the pump mechanics by either switching them on or off and checks the water level in tanks simultaneously.

This takes off a huge burden of keeping track of time along with managing other aspects of farming and almost completely eliminates the distances to be walked by the farmer to manually operate pumps, thereby saving tons of time and energy which could be put to more fruitful uses.

Before going ahead, let’s take a look at what Precision Farming stands for.

Precision farming, quite literally translates as a mathematical solution to optimize the inputs at hand to maximize the output, which in this case is crop yield while also maintaining the overall quality.

So, it’s pretty apparent that automated and technologically equipped devices are way better than us at being precise.

And that is exactly what a Punjab based start-up AgNext Technologies is trying to accomplish. AgNext Technologies came into existence as an imagery analysis company which put drones and satellite data to use to help out farmers. But now, they have diversified. And by that, I mean they plan to launch extremely well-rounded and comprehensive crop analysis platforms.

Taranjeet Singh, one of the start-up’s founders says that their goal is to create more predictive and crop-focussed solutions combining both agronomic sciences and data technologies like Artificial Intelligence and Machine Learning (man, these 2 are everywhere), image-processing, weather forecasting along with satellite imagery to create a ‘one-shot-one-kill’ platform.

Precision farming surely has blown a lot of minds.

But now is the time to get blown away by d r o n e s.

Okay so a drone is just like a crop-duster. Except it is unmanned. And really really well-equipped with fancy devices like sensors.

Just like a scene out of a Utopian futuristic movie, a sleek drone takes flight over a crop-field and starts going about its daily routine which involves soaking up insights in the form of crop health indices, count and yield prediction, height measurement, canopy cover management and also chemical aspects like chlorophyll measurement and checking the nitrogen-levels in wheat.

That is a lot. It’s stupefying that such feats of aerial surveying along with thermal imagery can be carried out in the absence of a human pilot.

PrecisionHawk is a company that does exactly the above. By no means the technology above is feasible for a small/mid-range farmer, but with some assistance from governments in the form of subsidies can drive up the yield rates monumentally, and even beat the levels achieved during the ‘Green Revolution’.

We have clearly covered almost all the aspects of how some little Arduino sets can literally leapfrog the efficiency of agricultural practices exponentially.

But this is not all.

We haven’t even touched the secondary impacts of this, and believe me, they are theoretically limited only to your imagination.

Of course, the overall output will be better, but did you consider the fact that almost everything will be digitized? And won’t this link Indian farmer-folk with the entire country?

Just combine IoT with analytics. Now you can literally solve the chronic energy crises in the rural areas.

In 2012, northern India faced a power-outage which was unprecedented even at a global level. But if we had used IoT enabled sensors and other analytical tools, we could have easily foreseen the risk using pattern analysis techniques and prevented this catastrophe from ever happening in the first place.

Now let’s club the above with Machine Learning, because why not?

Doing so would assist in the functioning of renewable energy sources like wind power by mapping out environmental variables governing wind-speeds and weather patterns while analysing crop health. The diversified applications are literally limitless.

Implementing only a subpart of the above ideas can boost the Indian agricultural sector phenomenally. And it takes up 50% of the national GDP, so just imagine the implications of this.

There surely is a hideously long journey ahead due to political and bureaucratic hurdles which infect India like a colony of toxic fungus. We’ve also got to give weight to the fact that the majority of Indian farmers are ill-equipped and practically uninformed about such uses of smartphones and other first-world luxuries, which are no longer luxuries but necessities.

But desperate times demand desperate measures. Human population is about to explode exponentially in a matter of decades, and they will need something to have their bellies filled with, unsurprisingly.

It’s surreal, but not unreal. Far from it.

Humans are going to overcome literally anything thrown at them, as it is in their very nature.

This is nothing but a level, nothing but a stage which is meant to be surpassed.

Evolution is an omnipotent law of nature and is applicable to every single thing. Agriculture is a part of it, and we have seen it go from ultra-primitive levels to mindbogglingly futuristic stuff.

And yet we haven’t reached the limits. Surprising, isn’t it?




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