Augmented Reality

One area of new technology which may start to make an impact on agriculture is augmented reality (AR).  AR allows you to overlay sensor data, previous crop imagery or some other information over visual reality. For example a set of glasses or goggles that could superimpose another image or computer generated image on top of reality, alternatively images can be superimposed onto a mobile phone camera screen.

How a farmer might use AR goggles:

 

A lot of AR technology is derived from the computer games industry, with perhaps the best known example being the Pokemon Go craze of a couple of years ago. Could such a technology have a significant use in agriculture? Agricultural engineers such as Agco are already using AR technology within their own factories. Agco factory workers in Jackson, Minnesota, use AR glasses that display diagrams and images of instructions to help them conduct quality checks on tractors and chemical sprayers. AR can also be used as a tool to market to farmers and could also be used to help buy and sell livestock or for training.

But how could farmers themselves use the technology to improve farm management?

The technology can be easily linked to drones or UAVs (Unmanned Aerial Vehicles), smart phones, or could be mounted within the cabs of tractors and other mobile machinery.  It has been suggested for example that a UAV linked to a AR headset would allow a farmer to easily identify problem areas within a crop. UAVs with a 360 degree camera could provide agronomists with a virtual tour of the crop and help with management. For Integrated Pest Management (IPM) programs correct pest identification is often critical to selecting the right control methods, and linking AR technology to entomology and pest control data could prove to be a useful tool.

Although much of the technology is still at the development stage, one example already available is a free mobile app released by Michael Scobie a research engineer with the National Centre for Engineering in Agriculture at the University of Southern Queensland. The app allows farmers to schedule irrigation using a mobile phone as a view finder, and the app calculates how much water the crop is using, and how much needs to be applied and when.

To be more than just a gimmick AR technology must be able to provide farmers with real actionable information and real economic benefits. The fact that AR applications can be easily integrated with familiar pieces of technology is a significant advantage.

 

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