Now in its third year, MobileTECH has become a major technology event for the primary sector. This event series has attracted over 1000 industry representatives from throughout Australia and New Zealand over the last couple of years. MobileTECH has provided a unique opportunity for companies from across the horticultural, dairy, meat, wool, grain, fisheries and forestry industries to meet and hear from the industry’s leading experts, researchers and technology suppliers.
This year MobileTECH 2015 was held on the Gold Coast in Australia on 21-22 April 2015 and in Auckland, New Zealand on 29-30 April 2015. The key focus for 2015 was on UAVs (unmanned aerial vehicles), robotics and automation. With the innovation and growth in these areas over the last couple of years, especially in UAVs for commercial use, we are starting to see a real technological leap in how the industry operates.
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DAY ONE: UAVs FOR PRIMARY INDUSTRY
Day one of both the Australian and New Zealand MobileTECH 2015 programmes were dominated by the increasing use of UAVs. UAVs, or drones as they are more commonly known, were only a footnote to most when MobileTECH first started in 2013. Fast-forward to 2015 and UAVs are now a major talking point.
MobileTECH 2015 had a strong mix of researchers, early adopters and innovators speaking on the benefits of UAV technologies and how companies are now applying them in their normal day-to-day operations.
FIRST BIG POINT
As UAVs are increasingly being developed for commercial use, the term unmanned aerial systems (UAS) is a better term to use. UAS includes more than just the UAV, as the systems around collection of data, imagery and other applications (like camera, GPS and automation software) have become more important than the vehicle itself.
UAVs come in both multi-rotor and fixed wing varieties and, like their larger piloted relatives, their use depends on the task at hand. While they both provide an invaluable ‘eye in the sky’, the strength of multi-rotor UAVs is in hovering and providing targeted solutions and fixed wing UAVs excels at long distance operations. Technology is always evolving and there will be a future where the benefits of both come together – however we are not there yet.
Farmers are now using UAVs to monitor stock and infrastructure, mustering livestock, farm and drain mapping, measuring crop growth variability and much more. In one example they reduced quad bike commutes by 2,000km a year, farm monitoring time by 82% and saved the lives of 40 ewes.
Horticultural businesses are also seeing real benefits with monitoring, location of problem growth areas, spot spraying, data collection and damage assessment.
UAVs are already being used operationally by several companies for applications in forest management. High-resolution monitoring for tree counting, survival assessments, weed and area mapping, fire and disease detection are just some of the uses. UAVs at this stage are especially cost-effective and flexible in collecting high-resolution spatial datasets for forestry companies.
A hidden gem for UAVs is their increasing potential as a delivery vehicle. The ability to transport goods over difficult terrain and in hard to reach rural locations could be a real game changer.
ONE MAJOR ISSUE
One major issue is the use of UAVs is with the control and fully automated flight. The future clearly contains multiple and fully automated UAVs carrying out complex tasks without direct human interaction.
However, both the New Zealand and Australian governments have, and quite rightly so, made safety as the number one concern. There are currently strong requirements in both countries around direct line-of-sight between the UAV and the operator. This is a relatively new technology and regulators are keeping a close eye on developments and use cases.
Even now, we are seeing new innovations designed to increase the level of safety around UAVs. Advances in automated obstacle avoidance, emergency landing systems and air control systems will go a long way in reducing risk and improving capabilities.
DAY TWO: ROBOTICS AND AUTOMATION
Day two of MobileTECH 2015 highlighted the development and application of robotics for the primary sector. Automation, remote sensing and increased capabilities are the big trends here.
There have been successful crop trials showing completely automated vehicles using vision tracking technologies to move along rows of vegetables and targeted spraying of individual weeds. These vehicles are not relying on programmed pathways and GPS – they are using specialised sensors to ‘see’ the vegetable rows and acting accordingly.
Another operation was using several ‘swarms’ of robotic tractors harvesting a number of fields. Once fill, they automatically return to their base station for drop-off and refuelling, then head back to continue harvesting.
One dairy farm has already taken automation to another level and they have cows being milked using an innovative robotic and ‘voluntary milking system’. Running the farm from the home office is becoming a reality.
For orchards, an autonomous and mobile robot is being used for both precision spraying and fruit picking via the use of robotic arms and vision sensors.
AN ADDED BONUS
An added bonus for MobileTECH 2015 was MIT’s presentation on their robotic cheetah. While it has no current applications for primary industry yet, they are producing some mind blowing technology and gave everyone a glimpse into the not to distance future.
Development in robotics for this sector is being driven by the commercial need for increased predictability, fuel efficiency and monitoring and to decrease the environmental impact, maintenance and risk.
MobileTECH 2015 provided an independent platform for local and international companies to learn about these new technologies.
Development of next year’s MobileTECH 2016 has already started and will continue to showcase a wide range of innovative mobile technologies designed to increase productivity, streamline operations and build growth for the primary industry businesses.
We look forward to building on this event for 2016. If you are interested in being involved in 2016, or you have ideas on improving this event, please get in touch with us!