Smart Farming Accelerates

Applying technology to a very well established industry is picking up steam.


Today I’m taking a brief, but related, detour from my usual automotive blog topics to discuss a bit of what’s happening related to autonomy but in the agricultural industry.

This industry carries a market cap of $42.7 billion as a whole for the construction and agricultural machinery market, according to The New York Times, although still smaller than the semiconductor segment, with its $124.7 billion market cap, also according to the NYT.

And investors have taken note. According to ABI Research, smart agriculture investment is growing as venture capital firms are now placing significant investments to revolutionize one of the oldest industries in the world via digital farms, also referred to as ‘ag tech.’

The research firm said smart agriculture segments include farm management software (Google Ventures, Andreessen Horowitz, and Y Combinator), precision agriculture and predictive analytics (Kleiner, Perkins, Caufield & Byers (KPCB), Qualcomm Ventures), robotics and drones (Y Combinator, Google Ventures, Monsanto Growth Ventures, and KPCB Edge), as well as sensors (KPCB, Verizon Communications, SparkLabs).

As far as the connection to semiconductors, Srikanth Rengarajan, vice president of products at Austemper Design Systems suggested the underlying semiconductor value chain is predictability is a proxy for autonomous vehicles and industrial robots.

“The imaging and robotics subsegments utilize principles of autonomous navigation using convolutional neural networks or deep neural networks and location-based tracking, which enables coverage of areas ranging from thousands of acres (unassisted drone operation) to distances of few feet separation (autonomous planting and weeding machines),” he said.

The sensors and actuators segments, in contract, rely on commoditized micros backed up by low-power communication technologies while portable diagnostic equipment fill the gap here and are reminiscent of the handheld/PDAs and require the same component, cost and power profile. One difference from the industrial IoT space is the lack of precision –– in temporal terms. As of yet, there is no need for time-sensitive networking, for example. The other is the energy-focus –– battery-based operation being the norm, Rengarajan continued.

Further, “backing up these subsegments are analysis and backhaul server segments expected to be the money-spinners by monetizing the all-important farm data. Standard cloud-based server components are at play with one estimate suggesting as much as a 1u server per 150 acres of farmland. Finally, there is the emerging trend of indoor farming using hydro or aeroponic technologies. These technologically advanced greenhouses seem to be the equivalent of Level 5 autonomous cars because they hold the promise of enhancing farm productivity by 100x or more while utilizing less water than a traditional farm. They rely on LED lighting (Plessey semiconductor is a player here focusing on GaN) and seek to eliminate weather, transport and wastage issues in the farm supply chain in one stroke,” he noted.

The presence of so-many elements of the automobile and industrial technologies makes agriculture an ideal test-bed. “With a serviceable market of $15 billion or more by 2020, this is an idea whose time has come. The entry of leading “tech” players –– Google ventures included –– via mergers and acquisitions in this space is a leading indicator of the importance of the agricultural technology sector in the immediate years to come,” Rengarajan concluded.

Indeed, the opportunities in the farming sector as significant, especially with increased digitization and autonomy ramping up, just as in the automotive space.

Related Stories
Toward Autonomous Farming
From harvesting robots to tractors without cabs, autonomy has already reached the agricultural industry.
Agricultural IoT: Outstanding In The Field
The Internet of Things for agriculture. Yes, it’s a thing—and a huge market.
Investors Back IoT Startups
Total private funding was more than $1.35B in 2H 2017, but investors also are showing more caution about where they put their money.

Leave a Reply

(Note: This name will be displayed publicly)