UK engineers to trial 5G-enabled drones for smart farming

UK researchers are exploring how 5G-enabled drones could be used to help create the smart farm of the future by monitoring crops and livestock  

The group, from Kingston University’s Robot Vision team (RoViT) is looking at how drones could harness this technology to carry out real time video monitoring and surveillance – potentially opening up new opportunities for increasing efficiency and productivity in the agricultural industry.

5G is set to become the industry standard for connectivity in the future. with potential speeds of up to 10 gigabits per second, opening up applications across a range of sectors.

Explaining the aims of the project Kingston’s Professor Paolo Remagnino, said: “We’re looking at providing a new method for monitoring livestock, grazing land and crops that would give farmers an eye in the sky over their fields. It would involve using drones with on-board visual and infrared cameras, supported by a computer vision system allowing them to detect when an animal is sick, trapped, injured or missing and also to monitor, count and control crops and spot signs of disease or weeds.”

Using drones to monitor farmland for hours at a time currently requires a huge amount of on-board processing power. Kingston’s associate professor Dr Vasileios Argyriou said that 5G could help make this process much easier. “We will be leveraging the speed of a 5G network, which would allow all of that processing to be offloaded from an embedded system to something that could be done on a very powerful server in real time – which could be in a barn or control station anywhere on the farm, or even another location altogether,” he said.

During the project, the RoViT team will employ a computer vision system that uses 5G enabled technology to provide a real-time assessment of the visual data, using a form of machine learning called deep learning. This uses artificial neural networks to mimic the way the brain makes connections between pieces of information without being specifically programmed, and would allow the drones to learn normal behaviour and appearance of livestock and crops and identify irregularities.

The project, which is being led by Kingston University, is part of the broader £2.1 million government funded 5G Rural Integrated Testbed (5GRIT) initiative which is trialling innovative uses of 5G across a range of rural applications.

A total of £25m has been awarded to six 5G projects across the UK as part of the government’s Digital Strategy, which aims to keep Britain at the forefront of connectivity through driving forward innovations and opportunities over the coming years with 5G.

In one such development, Worcester-based machine tool manufacturer Yamazaki Mazak has announced that is been chosen as a test-bed for a flagship 5G factory initiative, that will examine how the technology could be used to speed up industrial automation systems.

Selected because of its significant investment in Industry 4.0 technology, Mazak is part of a consortium of Worcestershire firms that have been granted £4.8 of government funding to explore 5G.

The group will look at how faster internet speeds can improve industrial productivity and advanced cyber security, via increased investment in next-generation technology. This will include experimenting with preventative and assisted maintenance techniques using robotics, big data analytics and augmented reality.

Commenting on the announcement Mazak’s Marcus Burton said: “Manufacturers across the UK and beyond are now reaping the productivity rewards of greater connectivity among their industrial equipment…but current internet speeds can only take us so far. The 5G Testbed represents a hugely exciting opportunity to drive further productivity growth, and facilitate even faster data transfer and analysis for manufacturers.”

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