IIT KGP Alumnus creates AI drones for farming community
Farmers want to cut input costs in an environment of uncertainties: Weather, pests, fertiliser costs, water availability and soil health. Drones, the unmanned aerial vehicles, equipped with sensors and imaging techniques, can cull out facts over vast stretches of farmland. The data can be utilised for farm growth. IIT-Kharagpur alumnus Taranjeet Singh Bhamra (B.Tech. / AG / 2002) promises a new revolution.
For decades, Indian agriculture scientists have tried and failed to predict onset of deadly diseases to crops. The result is enormous wastage of money and efforts. A study by the Associated Chambers of Commerce and Industry of India says annual crop losses caused by pests and diseases amount to Rs. 50,000 crore, which is significant in a country where at least 20 crore people go to bed hungry every night. There is hope: unmanned aerial vehicles (UAV), popularly called drones, are coming. Punjab may soon see the rollout.
The man behind the technology in this part of the country Taran Singh has worked in Indian and international markets, especially the UK and Middle East, for 11 years and has experience in management, consulting, business solutions, data analytics, food manufacturing and supply chain. Taran is eager to do something innovative in precision agriculture (application of precise inputs like water, fertilizers, and pesticides at the right time for increasing crop productivity). He is passionate about making a platform for community-based farming.
“When I was in Class VII, I saw a documentary about an NRI who returned from overseas and revolutionized floriculture in Punjab. When I cleared IIT entrance exams, I chose B.Tech in agriculture from IIT Khargpur, the only IIT in India offering such a course,” he said.
He says these drones can help in warning a farmer 10 days in advance about crop growth & water stress and fertilizer requirements by using artificial intelligence.
How it works
A drone is a flying computer and works with the help of artificial intelligence to make the best possible decisions in-flight. So, farmers can be advised about the exact amount of urea needed, for instance, in a wheat field. Most farmers in Punjab are small and marginal. They need to save on urea and water to cut input costs.
Drones require a controller, something the pilot uses to launch, land, and navigate. Controllers can take many forms, from gamepad-like controllers to smartphones and tablets. Regardless of how they look, controllers need to communicate with the drone, and typically do that using radio waves. Drones are typically run by 2.4 gigahertz radio waves. To communicate with their aircraft, many drone controllers use Wi-Fi, which can be transmitted on the 2.4 gigahertz spectrum, and is something that smartphones and tablets can tap into without any accessories.
Crop imaging over vast tracts of farmland can help in early detection of pests and weed attacks. “At the moment nobody in India is using agri-analytics. The deployment of drones will help farmers, insurers, commodity experts and even traders,” says Taran.
Future is here
There is a need for coordination among agriculture, corporate and commodity experts with guidance from academics, says Taran, adding his company Agnext is in talks with a leading university in Punjab. He has also tied up with a leading mobile equipment manufacturer to set up a demo centre in Gurgaon. The move will expand Internet of Things (proposed development of internet in which everyday objects have network connectivity, allowing them to send and receive data).
The food industry is quickly embracing the very latest Internet of Things devices and big data innovations.
By collecting more and more data on crops and growing conditions, yields can not only be controlled, but predicted. This data enables farmers to access accurate information on growing conditions so they can implement changes to increase yields.
In the near future, farmers may expect some help for speedy settlement of claims in crop insurance, thanks to drones. Insurers are taking a serious look at drones besides a real-time mobile application to address claim settlements. As part of the Pradhan Mantri Fasal Bima Yojana (PMFBY), deployment of drones has been allowed to estimate crop losses in localized calamities.
“We are innovating digital interventions to solve agriculture issues, introducing a unique platform of hardware, software and analytics as a device. Our aim was to create integrated hyperlocal farm data collection and crop analytics platform using latest technological innovations,” says Taran.
Cut cost, raise output
Since drones help in analyzing crops, the data would lead to reducing the input cost by 30%. The analysis can help in upping the yield by 20%, say experts.
The cost of drone deployment and data analysis would be 2-4% of the total input cost.
Commodity experts and insurance firms can keep a track on early-stage germination, mid-stage monitoring and harvest stage yield prediction, enabling them in settling claims.
The data also helps farmer groups to plan their crop better by analyzing all parameters.
The drones will be equipped with infra red & RGB sensors, hyper spectral imaging to map the farms.