There seems to be no corner of the world AI can’t touch. From text generation to face recognition and neural filters in Photoshop, AI is making all kinds of processes faster and more efficient - including farming.
US farming equipment giant John Deere has just unveiled the company’s latest automated tractor - the See & Sprat unlimited. Although it looks like any normal tractor, it’s actually powered by AI and is fitted with 36 cameras on board which can help reduce herbicide use by targeting certain weeds. It also reduces crop stress by providing an effective weed-killer strategy and comes with a dual chemical tank that enables farmers to apply both a targeted spray and traditional broadcast at the same time.
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The biggest advantage of Sea & Spray Ultimate (opens in new tab) over other AI tractors such as the Sea & Spray Select is that it is able to detect weeds from corn, soybean and cotton crops using computer vision and machine learning. Mapping data insights track weed pressure and areas applied so you can use it to plan future sprays. As the technology progresses, we expect it will be able to differentiate from other crops as well but currently it’s just the three mentioned.
Reducing the use of herbicides doesn’t only help the crops but it will save farmers a lot of money too. It’s estimated that the amount of herbicide saved during targeted spraying could be used for a second or third time, potentially lasting the whole season.
John Deere unveiled its first fully automated tractor in February 2022 - the Autonomous 8R tractor. Designed for large-scale production, it's fitted with six pairs of cameras which allows it to have a full 360° obstacle detection and distance calculation. It might not be as advanced as the Sea & Spray Ultimate but it was a step in the right direction for fully automated farming systems.
Farmers are able to monitor the tractor's progress without actually being on the machine using a mobile app that transmits live video images, data and metrics. Using this data, farmers can adjust the speed, depth and performance of the machine from a distance.
The farming community seems to have mixed feelings about the use of automated tractors, while some think it's an incredibly impressive feat that will excel the farming industry, other believe it's taking away from one of the more enjoyable aspects of farming - fieldwork
AI has faced a lot of controversies since it became mainstream but so far I can't think of any negatives to using it in farming. Working in agriculture is physically demanding, farmers work long hours, often starting very early in the morning and the still work is never done. If AI can help alleviate the strain farming has on the body, and give farmers more time to focus on other jobs (or even spend with their families) then I can't see any issues. It's not taking jobs away from creatives, it's not copying artists' work without permission and it won't directly affect the earning capacity of creatives.
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