Agriculture 4.0: industry 4.0 technologies in farming context
Author: PhD. F. Javier Zarazaga-Soria
Coordinator of the Advanced Information Systems Laboratory (IAAA)
From the First Industrial Revolution to Industry 4.0.
From its birth in the middle of XVIII Century until now, industry has suffered an exponential evolution, being the integration of real time information of processes a key element to achieve more efficient production levels.
The First Industrial Revolution, or Industry 1.0, if we use Web language, is dated on the second half of XVIII Century and characterized by the invention of the steam engine and the introduction of machines in production processes. The Second Industrial Revolution or Industry 2.0, based in the development of electricity for domestic and industrial uses, took place in the end of XIX Century. The Third Industrial Revolution or Industry 3.0 lasts all XX Century. Robotization and factories automation are its axes.
Nowadays, we are in the early stages of the Forth Industrial Revolution or Industry 4.0, articulated around the concept of the denominated “Smart Factories” where machines and systems are interconnected with the premises themselves under de leitmotiv of the search of adaptability and efficiency of production systems. In this frame, information is the driver of processes and is obtained thanks to continue data acquisition from sensors deployed all around the place, the availability of high performance communication networks, high capacity of storage and, processing and analyses of the data to convert them in information.
Towards Agriculture 4.0
The agriculture, envisaged as a kind of industry, is an agriculture oriented towards high scale production.
The successive industrial revolutions have been also projected on farming environments. This way, Agriculture 1.0 integrated mechanization and steam engines in solutions so representatives as the steam tractor (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Traction_engine#Steam_tractor_.28US.29). Electricity brought Agriculture 2.0 thanks to the application to daily works of industrial solutions that increased production capacity, especially in the first processing after of harvesting (that is the case of oil mills https://es.wikipedia.org/wiki/Almazara#/media/File:%C3%96lm%C3%BChle_auf_La_Granja.JPG). In the last half of XX Century, robotics and automatization arrived at farming world (Agriculture 3.0). So, today is normal to see big machines operating in the fields, performing completely work cycles in labours like sowing (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Seed_drill) or harvesting (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Combine_harvester)
The Forth Industrial Revolution starts to be present in farming scope by means of Smart Farms, that, similar what is happening with Smart Factories, pursue the interconnection of machines and systems with the premises, in this case, agricultural parcels and first processing facilities.
On one hand, the objective is the adaptability of production systems, thanks, for example, to improvements in crop rotation to obtain better production levels, and, in the other hand, efficiency of production systems, by means of optimization in the use of water, fertilizers and phytosanitary products, originating what is denominated as Precision Agriculture.
In this scenario, information is again the driver axis of processes. However, challenges are quite different from those of industrial environment.
First of all, the implementation of sensors on field. It´s true that, in theory, we can deploy as many sensors as we wish, but there are two main problems: energy supply for sensors, that can be solved using low-consumption sensors and alternative mechanisms to answer energy needs; and the transfer of data to the storage and processing systems, that could be difficult to solve in environments where broad-band networks (3G and superior) are practically inexistent and, sometimes, there are not even 2G coverage.
Although some big factories have already started to use drones to get data, it is in farming context where obtaining long distance data is really efficient and profitable. Satellites and drones are today and in years to come basic tools to get necessary data to support agriculture development.
Data storage and processing are very relevant issues. A drone equipped with a last generation camera is able to cover 200 Ha in about two hours taking data with 2 cm2 resolution. That means about 50 million of points with several data level. Their processing is not obvious and remote sensing, a disciple that has been developing potent basis over big processing systems (supercomputers) for years, faces now the challenge to be able to offer massive-consumption services.
Finally, there is a critical element: The interconnection of all the elements among them and with de territory. Over the basis of the implementation of cloud-based services, the barrier outlined before regarding to the availability of connection to high capability mobile communication networks, requires the development of ad-hoc systems capable of providing access to services in situations of low or inexistent coverage. In addition, it´s necessary to address the psychological barrier that has always existed among professionals of farming sector to incorporate new technologies to their daily work, by applying a high level of empathy to design experiences in accordance with their necessities and working environment.
The Advanced Information Systems Laboratory (http://www.iaaa.es), a research team part of the Aragón Institute of Engineering Research at the Universidad Zaragoza (https://i3a.unizar.es), works on technologies for open, interoperable distributed systems in the area of geographic-based data, services and knowledge, including Geographic Information Systems, remote sensing, Location-Based Services and Spatial Data Infrastructures (SDIs). In last years we have taken part in different projects related with the transfer of technology to farming sector. This is a research line we plan to continue on, together with our partners: GeoSLab (http://www.geoslab.com), 7eData Business, S.L.: (http://www.7edata.es), Rigual S.A.: (http://www.rigual.es), ASAJA Huesca (http://www.asajahuesca.es) and Human Openware Research Lab (http://howlab.unizar.es) of Universidad Zaragoza (howlab.unizar.es), among others.