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How virtual and augmented realities help ​​agriculture

21 Mar 2019

(c) Savina Collins

Virtual training is already a reality

To start a small-scale farm, you need at least 5 people. And the bigger the farm, the more people are involved. With innovative farm technologies – the staff needs complex trainings. Virtual training allows you to optimize the solution to this issue. Such training costs much less.

Modern equipment is not cheap. As unskilled worker may cause a malfunction or get an injury, virtual training allows you to avoid such situations. A new employee can work out certain scenarios in the game mode, train their skills to automatism, and after that start working with real technology.

Virtual training recreates a real working environment. An employee can carry out pre-planting field processing or harvesting. He or she executes the given scenarios and receives a certain number of points. After completing the task, the points are summed up, and the employee obtains a qualification mark. If something does not work out from the first try, you can always “replay”.

It is necessary to train muscle memory, which works better than pure knowledge in extreme situations. The muscle memory is working out a reflex, and thus way more increases the efficiency of work.

Of course, there are video trainings or personal trainers. But in the first case, there is only a possibility to watch and it’s boring, and personal trainers are expensive and can not deal with several people at the same time.

The augmented reality will save you money on using the plants protection tools

(с) Ekkasit Keatsirikul

When you are aware of pests and diseases, as well as of the means to be used, it allows you to make an operational decision to save the crop and reduce costs.

You can conduct a survey of the field using virtual reality. It is easier for farmers to determine the quality of the soil, to pick up the appropriate crops and effectively use the soil potential for crop production.

How is it implemented? Sensors are being installed in the field, and they scan the crop. An agronomist needs only to bring a tablet or a smartphone to the plant, and he/she receives information about the weather, temperature, plant health, fertilizer needs, and the date of harvesting.

How does the augmented reality works in this case?

There are two options of the augmented reality implementation: with the help of special glasses or smartphone and tablet.

Some smartphones have two cameras: one transmits thermal images, and the other is volumetric. Sensors that transmit information to the camera are installed in the ground. The camera reads the data and displays pop-ups on the screen. The smartphone and sensors are all the equipment you need to implement the technology. In addition, these sensors are quite inexpensive.

Why Ukraine doesn’t apply this technology?

The main reason is that people here are fearful of innovations. There is no concept of the investment process – initial investments and business plan.

Farm owners do not study the market before launching a production.  They do not understand many legal, financial, technical nuances.

The spread of innovation in developed markets is faster, because there is more competition. The more technology you use, the more successful you are. Those who can invest in technology – do that.

Businesses must think in advance. We use annual planning, people abroad – make 10-20 years plans.

We think innovations will also spread in our culture in a while, and now the right people should come here who will lead this process.

What are the other restrictive factors in Ukraine?

There are no definitive rules of the game in Ukraine. There are rules in the world, certain grants for farmers, subsidies for ecological farms. Two of our cases were paid by state grants: the first one was funded by the state budget of Peru, the second – by the local budget of San Francisco. Since local authorities are interested in increasing the number of organic vegetables and fruits, they are financing it. The state regulator has to implement and control such things.

There are no lobbyists in Ukraine, and the legislative process takes place without the participation of entrepreneurs, therefore, there are no general rules for doing business.

We do not have eco-lobbyists, as soon as they appear – the situation will get better.

Tell us more about the world’s best cases

The first case is the Isabel project in San Francisco. It’s a stand-alone mobile application, which manages a 177-hectare hydroponic farm. They worked in the social sector, so the local budget is fully paid for the project. We were training staff and then completely automated the farm.

(c) Isabel.io

After succeeding in San Francisco, the project moved to Peru. It turned into a full-fledged helper application that fully manages the greenhouse. There are timings, video tutorials, as well as automated fertilization and watering in the application.

The second case is Plant Vision from Huxley. This case works with artificial intelligence and fully automates the process: from fertilization to harvesting. The application contains timings, temperature data, plant health checks, current tasks to be performed.

(c) Huxley

How were these solutions developed?

Before launching, there were research and development stages for two years and consulting with experts, as well as certification by eco-standards.

In the US, government authorities sent their experts to test the developments. They even provided team with some pieces of advice on how to develop our products.

Isabel was built in 7 months (including testing). For Peru farm – 16 months. As for virtual trainings and simulations (we often call it Serious Games), an average scenario takes about a month. At the same time, the documentation is being prepared and there is an expert on a client or our side who can answer all the questions. Consequently, the more scenarios we need to implement, the more time it takes to develop them. And it is still important how many developers are involved in the project.

Usually, the customer tests the first option, and then returns to finish the development of the solution. We eliminate disadvantages, and add other features as needed.

How virtual and augmented realities are progressing in the world?

Let’s start from the US. There are two dominant trends on the market: Military and Aerospace. In the first case, they work with grants from the US Department of Defense, in the second case – from NASA. There are already the developments of space drones, similar to R2D2 from Star Wars.

The agri-sector also implements VR/AR technologies. But this area is more interested in cases with heavy equipment, because it is expensive. Simulators help to train the workers.

Leading countries in the development of Serious Games (virtual trainings and simulations) are the United States, Great Britain, Germany, France, Japan, Arab countries (due to lack of manpower), Scandinavian countries. China is very closed, so it’s hard to say about the state of development and the implementation of VR/AR there.

(c) DigiCapital

Today machine learning is trend. We work with systems that are learning themselves. Also, there are interesting solutions for surgery now – prototypes of surgical gloves. There are technologies being developed when in mixed (VR+AR) reality it is possible to touch something.

Simulation games don’t lose popularity as well. There is a big farm simulator called Pure Farming. It’s done for Playstation VR and Sony is investing in it. Likewise, farm simulators for mobile phones are being developed. Moreover, they are developed not only for games. Farmers’ unions in the US invest in these games as a learning tool. There is a boom in this area and a high demand for advertising by agricultural machinery producers. The farming simulator is about to create a parallel world of farms like the World of Warcraft.

Original article in Ukrainian you can find here.