For agriculture to provide a growing global population with food, modern technology will have to play a crucial role in everything from precision cultivation to analysis and decisions on which crops to prioritise. The technology can also be used to free up time for farmers, for example, by automating searches for lost animals using applied AI and drones.
Grazing animals are essential to preserving the open agricultural landscape and pastures brimming with species. However, there are few livestock farms in Sweden, and grazing animals must be supervised pursuant to Sweden’s Animal Welfare Act. If animals become ill, are attacked by a predator, or go astray, the work required to find them quickly is both difficult and time-consuming.
A project started by RISE in autumn 2018 has explored possibilities for automating this work, thereby freeing up plenty of valuable time for farmers. By incorporating artificial intelligence and image recognition in autonomous drones, large swathes of land can be searched quickly to locate missing animals.
– “Flying at an altitude of 100 metres is sufficient to obtain a good overview,” explains Mikhail Popov, Senior Researcher at RISE and initiator of the project. “From that height, we can cover several square kilometres in a short time.”
Autonomous drones save money and time
The project fitted ordinary and infrared cameras to drones to find stray animals. The greatest time gains do not come from this method, but from letting the drones fly fully autonomously instead.
– “Since an operator is not required to pilot the drones, our solution is significantly more cost-effective,” says Popov.
The main technical challenge, however, is getting a commercial drone to fly for a longer duration.
– “We want to fly with a simple drone for longer periods to cover large areas of land,” says Popov. “In order to develop an inexpensive solution able to fly without a permit, the battery capacity of commercial drones needs to be greater than at present.”
The technology would also be perfectly suited to searching for missing people
A welcome tool
The concept of searching for missing animals using autonomous drones has been welcomed by farmers.
– “Searching for stray animals is time-consuming, but it fortunately does not happen all that often,” says Catharina Rudolphson, who manages Bjelkesta farm in Örsundsbro, which is where the project’s flight tests took place. “This is, of course, very interesting, but the technology needs to become cheaper that it is now. It would be great to be able to rent a service to perform searches.”
Autonomous drones can save lives
Livestock farmers would not be alone in benefitting from the technology used to search via autonomous drones. Mikhail Popov sees several different areas of use:
– “We would be able to use drones in, for example, wildlife control, where this type of tool is permitted. But the technology would also be perfectly suited to searching for missing people. Piloted drones are already used for this today, but it is not possible to send up large numbers of vehicles to cover a larger land area, which is necessary to be able to quickly find a missing person. With autonomous drones there won’t be any limitations on the number we can send up, and we would be able to find a missing person faster.”