Autonomy in Agriculture – where does the AEF fit? – AEF Meetings in Milwaukee
Autonomy in Agriculture Day, the AEF and AEM Ag Technology Leadership Group examine how to collaborate and take on the challenges of autonomous machine to machine interoperability. A packed agenda saw several potential collaborations explored. The Team Leaders discussed activities that the AEF should support to take on the challenges of a multi branded autonomous system. How can AEF ensure that machine to machine communication will be safe, secure and have defined liability?
Association of Equipment Manufacturers (AEM) hosted these meetings and presented on the continued efforts in collaboration and standardization of autonomous machines. The AEM represents over 1000 members and 200+ machinery product lines globally and support standardization through ISO Standards as the preferred approach on global products. AEM membership represents a significant partner for ISO standards development and will offer technical experts to collaborate on consensus automation standards. The goal is to promote consistency across the off-road sectors of Agriculture, Mining, and Construction. AEM members have already completed work on 9 different ISO standards relating to automation and this will be a great resource for future AEF efforts.
As an example of how an industry might collaborate on such an undertaking that includes global operations and international standards, the AEF met with Joel Haight. Ph.D. Professor Haight teaches Industrial Engineering at the University of Pittsburgh and is involved with The National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH). Specifically discussed was the 62-member partnership focused on Mine Automation and Emerging Technologies Health and Safety. This partnership addresses issues pertaining to the health and safety implications of automation and emerging technologies in mining operations. The purpose of this group is to promote collaboration between the mining industry, equipment manufacturers, labor, consensus standards groups, government researchers and regulators and academic researchers. The goal is seeking a safe transition to a more automated mining industry. The strategy and tactics employed by NIOSH are a perfect model for AEF to follow as we take on a similar set of tasks.
There is a need to develop standards that cover the multiple domains and AEF has found a partner in this effort in CEMA. Ivo Hostens of CEMA presented on this partnership and how the AEF AgIN standards can help. CEMA focuses on several priorities. Mostly through the participation in selected EU projects and initiatives, CEMA contributes to driving innovation in the agri-food chain. The European farm equipment industry is a leading technology provider for farmers worldwide and is part of the solution to feed a growing world population. CEMA is helping to map the legislative environment in Europe while defining the digital processes that enable data flow and interoperability on IoT platforms. Using a practical approach to the complexity of these issues it is possible to develop international standards. The message is clear that a highly structured collaboration is needed, and AEF will participate.
Erik Pekkeriet from Wageningen University presented his experience with robotics and Precision Ag 2.0. AEF was presented the work being done in the Netherlands around Precision Ag 2.0 and smart farming processes. The studies conducted in 2019-2020 found 203 farms in the Netherlands using at least one Precision Ag 2.0 process with most of the functionalities being Variable Rate Application (VRA) based. The Precision Ag 2.0 has 3 basic actions on the farm that drive improved results. By acquiring data, using the FMIS to process the data one can then use regional decision models to implement the most efficient precision ag functions. This data and model generate a prescription plan for machinery prepared for VRA. AEF certified ISOBUS tractors and implements with precision actuators are then used for the VRA per the prescription plan. All these mentioned activities currently happen while the machinery is operated in person, on location.
How can we take this work from supervised to unsupervised?
Robots… Robots are the future, Robots can reach every plant, every animal, everywhere to act more frequently and collect reproducible data. Robots are proven to perform well in repetitive short cycle tasks and act with more precision at the right time. Can we create a Multi branded sensor, data, AI algorithms, machines and robots combined as one eco-system? This autonomy can reduce Soil compaction, chemicals, water, fertilizers/manure, energy, labor, administration, risks, logistics. It can also continuously handle rough working conditions and will scale easier to feed our growing communities.
The challenges to date include poor implementation and validation, limited durable examples in open field and poor connectivity with limited implement support. No international standards are complete to help plan, simulate, execute, secure data and learn/improve by software. These new machines will have limited remote assistance and safety concerns as well. The AEF has the expertise and vision to tackle these challenges with practical solutions. How does the industry give the controls to the farmer? The stakeholders on the farm need to be sure that the data is safe, secured and that machines have plug and play connectivity that is vendor independent.
The AEF regards interoperability as a key function, and we will support the industry in this way as autonomy and robotics are brought into the field globally.
AEF and Wageningen University and Research are collaborating on agROBOfood. agROBOfood is the European Union’s Horizon 2020 project dedicated to accelerating the digital transformation of the European agri-food sector through the adoption of robotic technologies. The aim of the project is to consolidate, extend and strengthen the current ecosystem by establishing a sustainable network of Digital Innovation Hubs (DIH), boosting the uptake of robotic solutions by the agri-food sector. The agROBOfood Consortium has 39 partners, including AEF, led by Wageningen University & Research.
Also presenting was the organization Global Org. for Agricultural Robots (GOFAR). The GOFAR mission is focusing on promoting and developing Agricultural Robots worldwide. AEF hopes to use a FIRA event to promote more collaboration. FIRA has organized a series of trade shows and technical conferences at many global locations for this promotion. By partnering with GOFAR, the FIRA show group should organize some events with AEF and AEF will bring the machinery experts to lead discussions.
Over a full day of presentations and roundtable discussion it was clear that AEF has much work to do for the industry. The collaboration between AEM, AEF member companies and outside organizations will be key to the industry success and the future possibility of autonomous machinery moving unsupervised through a farm.