Tools & data

Background last update:15 Oct 2018

5G Fieldlab makes precision farming more practical

A mere 2 hours between arrival of the drone pilot who scans the potato leaf, and loading of the map for the self-propelled sprayer which sprays the leaf with agent; that’s what the so-called 5G Fieldlab aims to achieve. And they are making progress, as was shown on October 3 during a demonstration on the Dutch test farm ’t Kompas in Valthermond.

At this moment the procedure mentioned takes at least a whole day, or – more likely – 2 days. The process of ordering a drone flight and the scanning of fields will remain the same in the future. Then comes the uploading of images made by the drone.

With the current wireless connection speeds the camera is producing images 3 times faster than the drone can send them during flight. The alternative, sending the images while the pilot is driving from a finished job to the next one, is not practical.

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Drone pilot ready for take-off... The Agrifac sprayer on the left has to wait for a mere 2 hours before the map is ready. - Photos: Galama Media
Drone pilot ready for take-off... The Agrifac sprayer on the left has to wait for a mere 2 hours before the map is ready. - Photos: Galama Media

Spraying advice in the form of a map

In current practice the data ‘harvested’ during the day is being processed in the office at night. Which means: the computer combines countless pictures taken of 1 field and turns them into 1 image. Next this file (directly or through the client) is sent to Akkerweb, where software applications analyse the results and produce a spraying advice in the form of a map. This in turn is being sent through the internet to the contractor, who uploads the map onto the sprayer using a USB stick.

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The drone takes around 1 picture per second. That generates more data than it can send wirelessly during flight.
The drone takes around 1 picture per second. That generates more data than it can send wirelessly during flight.

5G Fieldlab aims to increase the pace

The 5G Fieldlab aims to increase the pace of these applications. After all, spraying – like lots of other agricultural jobs – heavily depends on weather conditions. In such cases as a farmer you want as little time as possible between the decision to hire a drone and the actual spraying.

The time-consuming combining of a huge amount of drone images in order to create a field view can only be done quicker using a faster processing computer. But real improvement can be made using faster wireless data traffic. 5G Fieldlab’s partner KPN (a Dutch telecom company) is developing new mobile technology for that purpose, which will increase uploading speeds from the drone threefold.

During the demonstration the images where not sent at a speed of 30Mbps (4G), but at a speed of 120 Mbps through an experimental KPN network (which is supposed to develop into 5G).

In the video underneath Johan Booij from Wageniningen University & Research explains how the scanning and spraying works (in Dutch, text continues underneath video)

Reduce human actions

Fieldlab 5G work is also working on automatically sending the biomass map to Akkerweb, and afterwards wirelessly transferring the same map to the SIM Card in the GPS system of the Agrifac sprayer. The thought behind this is to reduce human actions to a minimum in order to achieve a smooth workflow. After all, the smoother the process goes, the quicker it will be accepted and used by farmers.

This near-future scenario worked well during the demo. The Agrifac sprayer was able to spray the potato leaf with the right amount of agent needed for each spot, based on the data provided by the drone flight executed only hours before.

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  • Using 5G technology which is now being developed, the speed with which data is transferred can increase three- of fourfold. KPN is working hard to make this possible.

    Using 5G technology which is now being developed, the speed with which data is transferred can increase three- of fourfold. KPN is working hard to make this possible.

  • The map is being received by the SIM card in the GPS equipment. The spraying can commence, with much greater accuracy than would be possible using a map created by satellite images.

    The map is being received by the SIM card in the GPS equipment. The spraying can commence, with much greater accuracy than would be possible using a map created by satellite images.

  • The self-propelled Agrifac sprays based on data provided by the map, using exactly the right amount of agent for each spot. That way, less agent is needed, which saves money and the environment.

    The self-propelled Agrifac sprays based on data provided by the map, using exactly the right amount of agent for each spot. That way, less agent is needed, which saves money and the environment.

Lot less agent needed

It will be up to arable farmers whether they decide to use this technology. The costs are, at € 17 to € 18 per hectare, higher than when for instance satellite images are being used (€ 2 per hectare). However, because the map is so much more accurate, a lot less agent is needed, which saves costs. The impact on the environment is also a lot less, and that benefits the image of agriculture, the farmer’s conscience and – perhaps – sales opportunities.

5G Fieldlab

The 5G Fieldlab is a joint venture of Wageningen University & Research (making research data practicable for precision farming), KPN (wireless communication), Dronehub GAE (a collective of Dutch drone service companies ), Agrifac (spraying technology), the province of Drenthe, and Innovatie Veenkoloniën (who have many potato growers in their working area). Goal is to ‘smooth out’ brand new technological developments and make them user-friendly, so the ‘average’ farmer can use them in his daily work. In 2018’s pilot the focus is on leaf killing and accelerating data communication. Leaf killing is chosen because it is a relative simple form of precision farming to start with. More complicated treatments – which require much more data traffic – will be tackled later on.

The video below (in Dutch) explains how KPN is testing its 5G network

Eric Wientjes

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