How robots are helping create drought-resistant crops

How robots are helping create drought-resistant crops

A robotics project in Missouri, USA is looking to tackle world hunger by using autonomous vehicles to collect data that will aid the development of drought-resistant crops.

For every story on how robots threaten the future of humanity, there’s scope for another that shows how they will save us. The fact is, like any technology, the humanitarian benefits and value of robotics to future generations will stem from our choices around their application and the regulations that govern them.

For now though, we can take heart in research at the Vision-Guided and Intelligent Robotics (ViGIR) Laboratory, undertaken in partnership with the University of Missouri in the US and other scientific bodies.

Population increases, climate change, the loss of arable land, pests and disease all play their part in undermining the world’s food supply. The internet of things (IoT) is rising to the occasion and striving to meet global demand but the effect of drought on many regions of the world remains potentially devastating.

Read more: Real-time disease monitoring unearths power of IoT in agriculture

Laying the groundwork for drought-resistant crops

What started as a collaboration with the College of Agriculture, Food and Natural Resources, creating 3D images of root growth in the laboratory, has flourished into the development of robotics that is helping to create similar images of corn shoots out in the field.

This new robotic architecture for plant phenotyping (an organism’s observable physical or biochemical characteristics) consists of two platforms – an autonomous ground vehicle, known as Vinobot, and a mobile observation tower, or Vinoculer.

As the ground vehicle navigates crop rows, collecting data from individual plants, the tower oversees a 60ft radius of the surrounding field, identifying specific plants for the Vinobot to inspect.

The Vinobot, meanwhile, has multiple sensors and a robotic arm to collect temperature, humidity and light intensity at three different heights on the corn plant. This allows it to assess growth, development, yield and other aspects, such as tolerance and resistance to environmental stressors, by correlating these to the physiology of the corn shoots.

Read more: Italian start-up Evja launches smart agriculture platform for salad growers

The importance of autonomous crop phenotyping

The neat teamwork between Vinobot and Vinoculer has a threefold advantage. Firstly, the system can assess large areas of a field at any time, night or day, while identifying biotic or abiotic stresses in individual regions.

Secondly, this can be focussed to allow high-throughput plant phenotyping, with either selective or comprehensive data acquisition – from groups or individual plants. And finally, the method does away with the need for the expensive aerial vehicles or confined field platforms that are commonly used today. The research’s report claims, the proposed system is cost effective, reliable, versatile and extendable.

Most significantly, the use of 3D models supplied by the robots expands the traditional measurements of leaf angels, areas and number of leaves to enable the potential discovery of new traits. This could provide the means to give scientists the data needed to develop new genotypes of drought-resistant crops.

Read more: Tarzan robot swings above crops for automated agriculture

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Internet of Business

GSMA Mobile IoT Initiative Helping Operators Target European Connected Energy Market

GSMA Mobile IoT Initiative Helping Operators Target European Connected Energy Market

GSMA Mobile IoT Initiative Helping Operators Target European Connected Energy Market

New Figures Highlight Huge Potential in Smart Energy Sector for Mobile Operators Deploying Mobile IoT Networks; Mobile IoT Networks Supporting Utilities Applications Globally.

The GSMA today announced that mobile operators deploying new Mobile IoT networks will be able to benefit from the European connected energy market estimated to be worth USD$ 26 billion by 20261.

Data shared by analyst house Machina Research highlights the huge growth opportunity in the emerging connected energy market that could connect approximately 158 million new smart meters on LPWA networks across Europe. The total number of connections in Europe could be further increased if the 60 million cellular connections are also included with LPWA.

“The Internet of Things is fundamentally disrupting the smart utility market by providing ubiquitous connectivity and real-time, actionable data. Mobile IoT networks will take this further by offering energy providers a cost-effective solution to connect millions of smart meters,” said Alex Sinclair, Chief Technology Officer, GSMA. “There is a real sense of momentum behind the roll-out of Mobile IoT networks with multiple global launches, however, there is still a huge runway for growth. We encourage operators to act now to capitalise on this clear market opportunity and further accelerate the development of the IoT.”

The current connected energy market, which includes applications related to the generation and transportation of energy, microgeneration, smart grid and distribution monitoring and smart metering, is worth an estimated USD$ 11.7 billion. The European connected energy market represents approximately 21 per cent of all global revenues, with APAC claiming 54 per cent and the Americas 21 per cent. The European Commission recently published a proposal indicating that approximately 200 million electricity smart meters and 45 million gas meters will be rolled out by 2020. The Commission also estimates that by 2020, approximately 72 per cent of Europeans customers will have a smart meter for electricity and about 40 per cent for gas2.

“In the coming years we will see an important change in the way natural gas networks operate. The need for more efficient operations, improved safety and better quality of service will be paramount and we can do this through the roll-out of smart gas metering systems, commented Gianfranco De Feo, Executive Director, Shanghai Fiorentini Ltd

“We are moving towards the digitalisation of gas networks, a transformation from “pipe-centric” systems to “data-centric” systems. To make this happen, reliable communication means are a must and the arrival of NB-IoT and LTE-M represents an acceleration of this evolution. These new technologies offer everything necessary, such as long battery life, penetration and data security, as well as licensed spectrum.”

Mobile IoT Networks Supporting Growth of Connected Energy

Mobile IoT networks are designed to support mass-market IoT applications across a wide variety of use cases including connected energy solutions such as water and gas metering, smart grids, electricity and energy monitoring. They support IoT applications that are low-cost, use low data rates, require long battery lives and often operate in remote and hard to reach locations making them ideal for the connected energy sector. Mobile networks are already supporting the smart electric metering market, but now other sectors such as water and gas metering are turning their attention to the benefits of adopting NB-IoT and LTE-M networks due to low power and better ground penetration.

In Europe, Deutsche Telekom has already deployed NB-IoT networks for smart metering and smart lighting solutions in several locations in The Netherlands, including Amsterdam and Rotterdam. Vodafone is also working on a number of initiatives including a water metering project in Valencia using NB-IoT. Globally, AT&T is working with Capstone Metering in the U.S to monitor water usage using LTE-M. In Asia Pacific, the largest global market for smart metering applications, China Mobile is piloting NB-IoT for water quality monitoring across several locations, while China Unicom is using NB-IoT to collect readings from energy and water meters and is working with an energy company, SoftGrid on a smart cities project3.

Mobile IoT Momentum

There are currently 21 commercial Mobile IoT networks available around the world from 14 operators, including AT&T, Telstra and Verizon (LTE-M), as well as 3 Hong Kong, China Mobile, China Telecom, China Unicom, Deutsche Telekom, KT, LG Uplus, M1 and Vodafone (NB-IoT). Etisalat and Turkcell have launched both NB-IoT and LTE-M.

For further information on the Mobile IoT Initiative, visit
1 Machina Research 2017. The figure refers to the total potential revenue available to all companies in the connected energy ecosystem.

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P4Q gets a helping hand on factory floor from Sawyer

P4Q gets helping hand on factory floor from Sawyer

Spanish electronics manufacturer P4Q has increased its production throughput by deploying a smart, adaptable robot on its factory floor.

Sawyer from Rethink Robotics is being used by P4Q at its factory in Alonsotegi, south west of Bilbao, to test printed circuit boards, resulting in better quality and improved overall production output by 25 percent.

The high costs and safety concerns associated with traditional caged robots had previously deterred P4Q from automating more of its factor for many years, but so-called ‘collaborative robot’ Sawyer offered a lower cost, safer and more adaptable alternative. After purchasing the ‘cobot’ from Rethink, PQ4 claims it was able to deploy it “in just a few hours.”

“Automating critical tasks in our production process has long been a priority, but we struggled to do it affordably,” said Alejandro Caballero, operations manager at P4Q Electronics. Sawyer, he added, has given the organization “competitive advantage beyond what we expected.”

Read more: IIoT and the rise of the cobots

Sawyer’s growing ‘To Do’ list

P4Q’s portfolio of products includes train control and power systems, solar tracking controllers, LED applications for the automotive industry and controllers for wind turbines, among others.  

Now, the company says it’s considering using the robot for additional tasks, including inspecting parts, taking photos for quality insurance, picking and placing, and line loading and unloading.

It’s also hiring additional staff, with the specific remit of finding new uses for collaborative robots in the company’s manufacturing operations.

Read more: Could hackers force industrial cobots to go rogue?

Hot competition for cobots

Competition in the global market for collaborative robots is hotting up, according to a report released this week by Transparency Market Research. Analysts there reckon that, in 2015, it was worth $ 10.3 billion, but is set to rise to $ 95 billion by 2024.

A key driver of this growth, they say, is the ability of collaborative robots to work safely alongside human colleagues.

Based on application, the global collaborative robots market can be segmented into assembly welding, machine tending, material handling, quality testing, and packaging, among others. Among these, the segment of material handling is expected to dominate the global market for collaborative robots over the years ahead with a share of around 24 percent occupied over the forecast period.

While the best known players here currently are Rethink Robotics and Universal Robots, TMR’s analysts say that vendors such as Robert Bosch, Kawasaki, Heavy Industries, Kuka and ABB, more traditionally associated with larger, older generation robots, are all likely to launch new products over the coming years.

Read more: Tennplasco recruits collaborative robot to fill human labor gap

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How drones are helping hurricane recovery efforts

flymotion using drones in response to hurricane irma

When Hurricane Irma swept through the Caribbean and the US south-east coast last month, lives were lost, homes were destroyed and vital infrastructure was critically damaged. High winds and heavy rain left approximately 13 million Florida residents without power. Although drone pilots have grown notorious for flying too close to natural disasters in the past and grounding emergency services as a result, they have been working alongside local authorities in Florida to get things back online. 

A small number of drone pilots have consistently managed to make headlines for all the wrong reasons. Interrupting emergency efforts to put out forest fires from California to Colorado is one obvious example. It’s bad publicity for a burgeoning industry in which regulations are evolving all the time. But there’s plenty out there that proves drones are capable of having a much more positive impact on society.

In a hurricane situation, damaged infrastructure can slow down rescue efforts and make it difficult for emergency teams to get around and communicate with each other. Getting roads open and people reconnected is always a priority.

Ryan English is co-founder and CEO of Flymotion Unmanned Systems, a drone services company based in Florida. He leads a team of pilots that has been working flat out since hurricane Irma arrived in the Sunshine State. Speaking with Internet of Business, he paints a picture confirming that drone technology has been vital to getting infrastructure back online.

“Pretty much everything in society today relies on utilities and infrastructure, from power to data to networks,” he said. “We’re a critical piece of getting those systems back online, from damage assessments to insurance inspections.”

Read more: Concirrus on a Quest to help marine insurers manage risk

Pre-deploying and the challenge of predicting nature

The sole advantage of being Florida-based when the storms rolled in was that the devastation didn’t come as a surprise. As the remnants of Harvey moved further inland, Irma was tracked as it grew in stature and drifted across the Atlantic. To an extent, the Flymotion team was able to predict its path and pre-deploy teams appropriately.

“This was the largest pre-deployment of UAS (Unmanned aerial systems) in response to a natural disaster, which is monumental,” said English. 22 separate Flymotion teams were deployed in locations across Florida as the state braced for impact.

But even then, the hurricane was unpredictable. “In any kind of disaster situation, you can pre-plan as much as you want but it’s an unknown situation. When Irma was on the way it was going from a category three storm to a four and a five, so the potential impact and the way it was moving was unknown.”

Read more: Can drones and commercial aircraft safely share airspace?

650 missions and counting

The use of drones allowed FLymotion’s inspection teams to work quickly and conduct more than 500 missions in the immediate aftermath of the hurricane. The number is increasing daily and now stands at over 650.

Interestingly, these missions aren’t only being carried out by the rugged, weather-proof drones you might envisage. Instead, Flymotion has been utilizing DJI’s entire product catalogue, including the family-friendly drones launched by the industry’s leading manufacturer with beginners in mind.

These range from the $ 500 palm-sized Spark right up to the Hollywood-grade Inspire 2. Even DJI’s consumer-focused drones have obstacle avoidance, autonomous flight modes and high definition cameras, so this variety has allowed English and his team to be versatile and adapt to the mission at hand.

And what of the response to the aerial response? Will the reputation of drone pilots flying in disaster zones improve now that their value has been proven?

English certainly thinks so. “I think Hurricane Harvey and Irma have really changed the viewpoint in a positive way. Undoubtedly, drones expedited the recovery efforts in many ways. We’ve been able to showcase the technology and prove how well it can work.”

Read more: Honda unveils disaster response robot

flymotion unmanned systems

On the road with Flymotion Unmanned Systems

A turning point in the perception of drones?

Speaking with Internet of Business, corporate communication director at DJI, Adam Lisberg, agreed that this was the first major disaster on US soil in which drones could be effectively deployed.

Hurricanes Harvey and Irma were a major turning point for how drones have been able to assist with rescue and recovery operations following a disaster,” he said. “Thanks to the increasingly wide deployment of drones around the country, as well as the Part 107 rules that allow professional drone pilots to be certified relatively easily, these were the first major disasters in America where drones could play a key role in the response.”

As highlighted by Flymotion’s ability to pre-deploy teams across the state, drones have proven to be a valuable, versatile tool that can be up in the air in no time at all. “Drones allow professionals to do their tasks safer, faster, more efficiently and at a lower cost, by providing a convenient aerial perspective and the ability to quickly gather aerial data so it can be processed and analyzed,” said Lisberg.

“In a rescue situation, they allow crews to assess damage and look for survivors from the sky far more easily than from land or water,” he added.

Aside from being the original manufacturer for the majority of aerial hardware deployed in the aftermath of hurricane Irma, DJI didn’t play a direct role in the response. Instead, the company supported its partners on the ground, and “provided equipment to nine established search-and-rescue organizations we’ve worked with before, to help them as they responded to immediate rescue and recovery needs.”

“This included almost 200 batteries, since finding reliable power sources to recharge batteries quickly became one of their top priorities. We also provided immediate technical assistance for team members who needed help keeping their drones flying in difficult conditions.”

Flymotion’s Ryan English predicts many more months of recovery efforts ahead in Florida. Just as drone deliveries are being pioneered by companies intent on flying medical supplies from one location to another, public opinion may be further swayed by their benefits in the direst of circumstances.

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Internet of Business

Facial Recognition and AI Helping Customize Retail Experiences

When shopping online, today’s customers want all the personalization of an in-store experience. And when they walk into a brick-and-mortar store, they want continuity from this online experience, based on the choices they made across all other touchpoints.

Savvy retailers have met these expectations by pulling in incredible amounts of data for highly personalized cross-channel offerings. Online, they’re performing advanced real-time analytics on customer behavior to deliver digital experiences tailored around customers’ interests and needs. In store, they’re using cutting-edge software to understand who’s looking at displays, and to engage, entice, interact and motivate action.

This level of personalization uses artificial intelligence (AI) for facial analytics. It is an essential tool for any retailer who aims to keep up with the changing expectations of digital consumers and find more effective ways to generate revenue. Here’s how the power of AI and facial recognition enable a deeper understanding of customers and provide more personalized experiences.

Two humans look at a tablet.

What visual experiences do

The goal of in-store personalization is to deliver experiences that are as individually tailored as those online. While this might sound like a tall order, the truth is that the latest digital displays can collect analytics and deliver content just as precise as those of any web platform.

Only 13 percent of in-store eye fixations are on signage, and the average shopper looks at signage for only three-tenths of a second. Less than half of those people can remember what they saw on the signs. In short, it’s not what you look at, but what you see, that’s really crucial — and a very effective way to ensure that shoppers see a display is to provide them with targeted content.

It all starts with deep insights about consumers. These can come from digital touchpoints, from in-store analytics or, ideally, from a combination of data from all channels. Taken together this data can reveal trends and deeper customer insights — for example, 50 percent more shoppers engage with alcohol brands on Tuesdays rather than on Thursdays, and they’re two times more likely to browse frozen foods on a Wednesday afternoon. This leads to a better understanding of the customer, greater data personalization, insight and a better overall customer experience.

When you connect online and offline data to arrive at these kinds of insights, you’ll deliver more personalized experiences and establish loyalty for your brand. The next step is to leverage AI to reach the shopper.

AI in retail experience

The latest data shows that interactive digital signage gets more than twice the engagement rate of top social networks. It also gets a dwell time that’s 24 percent higher than Google benchmark data for online rich media. But not all interactive signage gets these impressive results. To really activate the power of this channel, you’ve got to use it to learn about customers — then deliver personalized, customized content that connects with them at the right time.

Many retailers are scrambling to increase personalized experiences and are calling on companies with proven results that offer groundbreaking retail technology, specializing in driving brand and consumer engagement. One of the most powerful tools for in-store personalization is facial facial detection . This technology can play visually interesting content for individual customers, based on past purchases. But that’s only the beginning.

Digital and interactive displays go far beyond facial detection — they can recognize returning customers’ emotions, demographic information, shopping time, location and more. These cognitive analytics enable the display to engage in a real-time feedback loop with the customer, refining its messaging in response to the shopper’s reactions, in order to reach the right consumers with even more precise messaging in the future.

The results speak for themselves. Using a combination of facial recognition, emotion detection and advertising refinement raised the average dwell time per display to an almost-unheard-of 32 seconds. Impressions and engagements also went through the roof, as more shoppers interacted with personalized displays and were far more likely to purchase following those interactions.

Some brands are beginning to go a step even further by adding object detection to their personalization strategy. This can yield even better results, and serve targeted behavior-driven messages to individual customers. All touchpoints in all stores can deliver a single, consistent experience that spans every digital touchpoint and brick-and-mortar location.

This is the level of consistency and personalization demanded by today’s shoppers. Aside from the increase in engagement and revenue, the real value is the ability to build emotional connections with your customers. This personalization is an absolute necessity in the future of retail to keep customers coming back, time and time again.

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