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Achieving integrated smart farming - 01 March, 2013

Abrupt seasonal weather changes, including floods, early frosts and winter blizzards, cause problems for farmers, including loss of crops and stock. Many of these problems are natural, and to a certain extent unavoidable. Farming has consistently adapted to better meet such challenges, and the sector is currently poised to undergo another revolution, delivered through one the 20th century's technological breakthroughs: computers.

Until now, the farming industry has tended to confront challenges with innovations in individual sectors: intelligent systems to regulate engines in order to save on gas, for instance. Technology has crept into farming, as farmers have had to explore innovative ways to extend the growing season as well as increase production. With the aid of satellites and sensor technology for example, farming equipment can automatically perform the field work; in doing so, they efficiently distribute seed, fertilizer and pesticides on arable land. Such optimization however is gradually hitting its limits. 

The next step therefore is to network these individual systems into cyber-physical production systems. These can map the entire process electronically, from the farm's computer to the harvesting operation. Thus, these systems have the potential to substantially increase efficiency and quality. Researchers from the Fraunhofer Institute for Experimental Software Engineering IESE in Kaiserslautern have developed software that will show how European agriculture and farmers can benefit from networked systems in the near future. 

The Institute will be attending the 2013 Embedded World trade show to exhibit their innovative device. They will provide a live demonstration of how the interaction of machines in cyber-physical systems can operate safely and securely. The slogan of the exhibit is "SEE: Software Engineering Explained". 

During the exhibit, a miniature tractor with an implement device will moves across a plot of land on an agricultural diorama. Located at the edge of the farmland will be two tablet PCs. Visitors will be able to use them to start up the automated control of the farm equipment. Six screens will be suspended above the model farm. They will display the processes behind the automation, showing how software manages the functionality. 

Today's tractors and implements feature extensive use of electronics and software, known as "embedded systems". The visualisation aspect of the system in operation will help visitors understand the challenges and solutions of interconnecting embedded systems and IT systems. With intelligent networking, farmers will be able to improve farming productivity. "To many people, software is just an abstract thing," explains Ralf Kalmar, business area manager at IESE. "However, working with it pays off. Indeed, it is becoming the next major factor in innovation in several industries." 

The networking of agriculture operations is not limited to simple task management for agricultural machinery. Over the last few years, the number of 'players in agriculture business' has soared: besides seed and fertilizer producers, sensor technology and data service providers are joining in the mix, offering geodata and weather data, for instance. Systems for e-government and smartphone apps for identifying pests have also been introduced. "The challenge lies in linking all systems intelligently, and in creating standards for interfaces so that all participants can benefit," says Dr. Jens Knodel the Smart Farming project manager. For this reason, he adds, "it is helpful to provide them with the methods of software engineering: from standards management and system architecture to programming code - with particular attention paid to security and reliability". 

After the trade show, the exhibit will be converted into a 'Living Lab.' Researchers say that this will not restricted to agriculture, but may be of interest to small and medium-sized enterprises, for instance. "Based on the production units installed in the laboratory, they can see the benefits that networking holds for them - and launch their own development projects," says Knodel. 

The software network developed by the Fraunhofer researchers promises to be beneficial for the agricultural industry, which continues to face numerous challenges. To reinforce this new endeavour, German researchers are collaborating with John Deere, a worldwide company specialising in agriculture which runs the European Technology and Innovation Center (ETIC) in Kaiserslautern Germany. Finally, in addition to Fraunhofer IESE, other parties involved include the Fraunhofer Institute for Industrial Mathematics ITWM and companies from throughout the region.

For more information, please visit: 

Fraunhofer Institute for Experimental Software Engineering IESE

Category: Miscellaneous
Data Source Provider: Fraunhofer IESE
Document Reference: Based on information from Fraunhofer IESE
Subject Index: Agriculture; Food; Network technologies

RCN: 35552


01 March, 2013