Artificial intelligence and robotics are revolutionizing the agriculture industry. While the agriculture sector has had a number of groundbreaking achievements, or “revolutions,” over the last 100 years — from the debut of pesticides in the 1940s to precision agriculture and remote sensing in the 90s and 00s — in the present day, the introduction of AI, machine learning, robotics, and IoT has been a welcome addition to the modern farm.
Utilizing the power of AI and robotics, farmers can track the weather and locate pest infestations. They can ensure efficiency at their farms at lower costs, and, in the case of an Israeli crop intelligence solutions firm called AgroScout, collect data to monitor crop development in real-time.
AgroScout CEO Simcha Shore recently spoke of the impact of AI and robotics on traditional agriculture at the annual AI, Machine Vision, & Machine Learning conference last Wednesday. The conference was put together by New-Tech Events (part of New-Tech Magazines Group), an Israeli organizer of high-tech trade events, fairs, conventions, and exhibitions.
Shore’s company AgroScout has developed software that uses both AI and robotics to monitor crops in order to accurately plan processing and manufacturing operations. The solution also allows for quick and efficient detection of pets and disease, which could affect a field.
AgroScout was founded in 2017 and is currently located in the northern Israel community of Kibbutz Yiron, a place that used to be known for its vintage dairy farms that produced milk for companies like Tnuva, Israel’s largest food manufacturer. The company has raised $11.3 million, including $7.5 million in a Series A round in August 2021.
Shore refers to the way AgroScout’s platform utilizes these processes to showcase their significance to help nearly 500 million unserved farmers across the world.
Today, AI and robotics help farmers go from field level to almost plant level, he tells NoCamels days after the conference. “In Israel, we have scouts that walk the fields — something we started 70 to 80 years ago with cotton. It only caught on in the US and Israel. It didn’t catch on in the rest of the world because they don’t have the relevant people to do it. That’s one of the reasons we grow twice the amount of tons an acre than the majority of the farmers of the world,” he says, “I think this is an opportunity. That’s where we want to be. We want to be able to harness the drones, smartphones, and artificial intelligence to bring the finest ‘plant doctor’ or farmer to every farm and every plant on the globe.”
AgroScout enables its users to leverage AI-driven cloud computing technologies in “off-the-shelf hardware” in the form of smartphones and drones to deliver analytics that can manage crops. The software solution is provided in a mobile app that offers quality data on everything from crop yields, the standard measurement of the amount of crop production per unit of land area, to pest and disease monitoring to reduce the input of chemicals. Farmers and crop growers can also take images of the field with their smartphones and use an “Ask The Expert” feature to ask questions about the findings they’ve uncovered, in their own language.
Beyond the smartphone, AgroScout also uses small, commercial drones to collect data and take images that gather insights. According to Shore, farmers purchase their own low-cost drones – “$999 from Amazon” – to gather data.
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“All we do is help you with our app. You put this small drone next to the field, and you draw a polygon of the field. IT’s going to fly around by itself. We turn that into a fully autonomous remote sensing algorithm. The base platform for data collection in a very agronomic farming kind of way,” says Shore, “The algorithm is going to drive that drone autonomously over a field at a certain height in a certain pattern to collect the relevant data that we need for the AI.”
Shore also points out that AgroScout brings in satellite data and weather data that has been collected over the last five years “over multiple seasons, multiple countries, multiple territories, multiple crops.” The company works with the largest processors in the world to capture images with a kind of resolution that is half a millimeter pixel and similar to human eyesight.
“Because we’re mimicking a person standing next to that plant in the field,” he adds.
Shore makes sure to emphasize that as much as it is about creating more crops more efficiently and at lower costs, it’s also about lessening the input of dangerous chemicals or pesticides.
“Today, if you’re a farmer, you’re going to go out and spray once a week a bunch of chemicals. You don’t really know what’s happening in the field, you have a best practice of this is what you should be putting out at this time. So the treatment is statistical,” he explains, “But if I can enable a farmer, say, for [US agriculture machinery manufacturer] John Deere to spray only half of the field or half of the chemicals, this is a tremendous reduction of the chemicals we don’t want to see in our food.”
Utilizing AI and robotics, AgroScout has reduced the inputs of irrigation fertilizer and chemicals by 10 percent. They’ve also increased crop yield by 10 percent, says Shore.
“We want to reach millions of hectares or acres of farmland and impact global food security. So the more crops I do, the more farmers and processors I reach, the more I’ve started to impact. My goal is to impact global food security. The goal is to help the people that grow our food grow more with less.”