Bringing gaming to farming: augmented reality in agriculture

In what’s believed will be a world first in agriculture, researchers from Australia’s national science agency, CSIRO, will use popular gaming platforms, sensor technologies and next-generation data interaction techniques to help prawn farmers make decisions in a bid to boost productivity.

Water conditions in prawn ponds can quickly change from healthy to threatening in a matter of hours, but current methods for monitoring water quality are labour intensive and cause significant delays between the measurements and being able to see important trends in the data.

Speaking at D61+ Live in Sydney, Australia’s premier science, technology and innovation event, CSIRO Postdoctoral Fellow Dr Mingze Xi said they have developed technology that will give farmers near real-time understanding of key water quality parameters like dissolved oxygen and pH levels.

“This is done using state-of-the-art wearable and hands-free technologies that they use while they’re walking around and managing the ponds,” Xi said.

“Prawn farmers tell us that they don’t actually farm prawns, they farm water quality.

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“This could give them the information they need to better manage animal health and feed inputs, for example, and even share the visuals in real time with managers in the office or external experts for fast input.”

The technology draws on CSIRO’s domain expertise in agriculture and the capabilities of its data and digital specialist arm, Data61. It was developed by CSIRO’s Digiscape Future Science Platform and uses the power of Data61’s Senaps platform, which helps businesses connect data in a range of different formats, integrate complex analytics and turn it into useful intelligence that can make a difference.

Pacific Reef Fisheries, a prawn farm operator in Ayr near Townsville in northern Queensland, is working with CSIRO to provide real world conditions for testing the system.

Environmental manager Kristian Mulholland said augmented reality in the aquaculture industry had the potential to transform productivity in the industry.

“Augmented reality technology could be a huge game changer for our industry to make water quality monitoring so much quicker and easier, all in real time, and bringing a visual aspect of data display to efficiently make more accurate management decisions,” he said.

“We could gain huge productivity improvements using this technology, and we’re incredibly excited to be a part of its development.”

CSIRO has chosen prawn farming as the first agricultural industry to test this technology, with a view to expanding into other sectors shortly.

“We can see this technology becoming a normal part of farm operations no matter what you farm, as all types of farming become more reliant on gathering and understanding data from sensor technologies,” Xi said.

In addition to augmented reality technology, cutting edge projects across artificial intelligence, privacy, security and blockchain, will be on show at CSIRO’s D61+ Live in Sydney on 2 and 3 October 2019.

Augmented reality helps lead quality in Australian meat industry

Meat and Livestock Australia (MLA) have partnered with Design Build and Consulting business, Wiley to explore how technology can bring meat grading into the future utilising Augmented Reality (AR).

The pair collaborated on a research and development project to innovate meat grading using computer vision, with the goal of objective measurement and decision support for grading staff. The innovative technology will help cement Australia as the world’s leading red meat producers, delivering high quality future supplies to domestic and international markets.

The AR platform, named ARGA (Augmented Reality Grading App) facilitates faster, more consistent and more precise meat grading while taking full advantage of the experience and capabilities of the industry’s meat graders. The solution is designed to discern the colour of a meat sample; accurately can determine the area of the latissimus dorsi muscle and introduces handsfree scanning of meat sample tickets. These features have been demonstrated on a Vuzix m300 augmented reality headset as well as on various hand-held devices.

This project consisted of two phases:

  • A research phase reviewing and cataloguing relevant augmented reality projects, case studies and technology
  • A proof of concept phase in which a prototype of an augmented reality application was developed for an AR head mounted display and tasked with reducing the subjectivity in MSA grading in a processing environment.

The subjective collection and assessment of meat grading attribute in the industry have contributed to trust issues between producers and processors. MLA have stated that producers and feedlot operators are concerned about the precision of meat grading in Australia. Meat graders are not to blame. Humans are simply not built to repeatedly make objective judgements day in day out. In an American study of meat grading, it was found that 50% of meat samples were mis-graded in some way.

“We are really excited to be working with the MLA in research and innovation projects that will move the red meat industry forward into the digital era. We congratulate MLA on their foresight to investigate and invest in this technology,” said Wiley’s R&D and Innovation Director, Brett Wiskar.

In 2016, Australia was responsible for the exports of more than a million tonnes of beef exports making this country one of the leading meat producers in the world. Meat and Livestock Australia (MLA) is working hard to keep Australia at the forefront of meat production globally with technological initiatives designed to ensure Australia’s future as a global industry leader.

Wiskar explained some of the benefits of the meat grading AR platform. “Decision assistance for meat graders may lead to improved transparency and consistent outcomes for the meat industry. Increased precision has obvious benefits such as accuracy on a carcase by carcase basis and broader labour efficiencies but there are also subtle flow-on positive impacts to the industry and processors.

Decision support is likely to bring about greater speed and decreased training periods for meat graders. In addition, such a solution has the potential to normalize grading performance across shift duration, between graders, between facilities and across processor groups.

Both the augmented reality market and the platform developed through this research show substantial potential. The successful demonstration of a meat grading application in conjunction with the continuing development of augmented reality solutions make it reasonable to expect augmented reality to play a substantial role in the meat industry in years to come. This platform will have much further potential as the technology advances.

MLA and Wiley are now working together to prepare a Rural R&D for profit submission on an augmented and virtual reality program for all of Australian agriculture.