Smart agriculture under the spotlight

By: Karel Smrcka

5th April 2013

Smart agriculture
Smart agriculture

Integrating embedded systems into information technology infrastructure holds immense potential for the productive sectors of the economy. At the Embedded World 2013 trade show, in Nuremberg, Germany, at the end of February, German researchers demonstrated how the interaction of machines in cyberphysical systems operates safely and securely.

Climate change, population growth and increasingly scarce resources are putting agriculture under pressure. Farmers must harvest as much as possible from the smallest possible land surface. Until now, the industry dealt with this challenge using innovations in individual sectors: intelligent systems regulate engines in order to save on fuels, for instance.

With the aid of satellites and sensor techno- logy, farming equipment can automatically perform the field work and, in doing so, they efficiently distribute seed, fertiliser and pesticides on arable land. Nonetheless, optimisation is gradually hitting its limits.

The next step is to network these individual systems into cyberphysical production systems. They map the entire process electronically from the farm computer to the harvesting operation. Thus, these systems can substantially increase efficiency and quality once again. At the 2013 Embedded World trade show – specifically at the joint Fraunhofer booth – researchers from the Fraunhofer Applied Research Institute for Experimental Software Engineering, in Kaiserslautern, Germany, demonstrated how agriculture will be able to benefit from networked systems in the future.

The experts intentionally chose the field of agriculture. A miniature tractor with an implement moved across a plot of land on an agricultural diorama. Located at the edge of the farmland are two tablet personal computers. Visitors to the trade show could use them to start up the automated control of the farm equipment. Six screens were suspended above the model farm. They displayed the processes behind the automation, showing how software manages the functionality.

Today’s tractors and implements feature extensive use of electronics and software – these are known as embedded systems. “The motto of the exhibit was SEE: Software Engineering Explained. The visualisation helped visitors to understand the challenges and solutions of inter- connecting embedded systems and information technology systems. With intelligent networking, farmers can improve farming productivity.

“To many people, software is just an abstract thing,“ explains Ralf Kalmar, business area manager at the institute. “However, working with it pays off; indeed, it is becoming the next major factor in innovation in several industries.“

The networking of agricultural operations is not limited to simple task management for agricultural machinery. Over the last few years, the number of ‘players’ in the agricultural business has soared. Besides seed and fertiliser producers, sensor tech- nology and data service providers are joining in the mix, offering geodata and weather data – for instance, government and smartphone applications for identifying pests are also used.

The challenge lies in linking all systems intelligently and in creating standards for interfaces so that all participants can benefit,” says Dr Jens Knodel, smart farming project manager. For this reason, he adds, it is helpful to provide them with the methods of software engineering – from standards management and system architec- ture to programming code – with particular attention paid to security and reliability.

Chances are good that Kaiserslautern will deliver important momentum to the agricultural industry – thanks to the collaboration between the Fraunhofer researchers and John Deere, which runs the European Technology and Innovation Centre.

The Frauhofer Innovation Cluster’s Digital Commercial Vehicle Technology, where most of the solutions that were on display were engineered, has been in existence since April 2007. In addition to the Fraunhofer Applied Research Institute for Experimental Software Engineering, other parties involved include the Fraunhofer Institute for Industrial Mathematics and companies from throughout the region.

Through the Commercial Vehicle Alliance, the cluster is tied to the Centre for Commer- cial Vehicle Technology at the University of Kaiserslautern and to the Commercial Vehicle Cluster.

After the show, the exhibit will be converted into a ‘living lab’. It is not restricted to agriculture but may be of interest to small and medium-sized enterprises, for instance.

Based on the production units installed in the laboratory, they can see the benefits that networking holds for them and launch their own development projects. Edit by Martin Zhuwakinyu.

 

Published: Zarai Media Team

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