In the future agricultural machines will be able to communicate with each other and will be controlled via smartphone or tablet (Credit: Fraunhofer IESE)

'Smart farming' shows benefits of IT integration

“Smart farming” demonstrates the benefits of integrating embedded systems into the IT infrastructure.

Research organisation Fraunhofer will use “smart farming” as an example to demonstrate how the interaction of machines in cyber-physical systems operates safely and securely and can boost productivity at the 2013 Embedded World trade show in Nuremberg from 26 February.

Climate change, population growth and increasingly scarce resources are putting agriculture under pressure and so farmers must harvest as much as possible from the smallest possible land surface.

Innovations such as intelligent systems regulate engines and satellites and sensor technology, that allow farming equipment to automatically perform field work, have yielded benefits, but according to the researchers optimisation is gradually hitting its limits.

They say the next step is to network these individual systems into cyber-physical production systems by mapping the entire process electronically, from the farm computer to the harvesting operation, increasing efficiency and quality.

“To many people, software is just an abstract thing,” explained Ralf Kalmar, business area manager of Fraunhofer’s Institute for Experimental Software Engineering. “However, working with it pays off. Indeed, it is becoming the next major factor in innovation in several industries.”

Their exhibit features a miniature tractor with an implement that moves across a plot of land on an agricultural diorama. Located at the edge of the farmland are two tablet PCs, which visitors can use to start up the automated control of the farm equipment.

Six screens are suspended above the model farm, displaying the processes behind the automation and how software manages the functionality.

Today’s tractors and implements feature extensive use of electronics and software known as embedded systems and the visualisation helps visitors to understand the challenges and solutions of interconnecting embedded systems and IT systems.

But the networking of agricultural operations is not limited to simple task management for agricultural machinery with data service providers offering geodata, weather data and smartphone apps for identifying pests

“The challenge lies in linking all systems intelligently, and in creating standards for interfaces so that all participants can benefit,” says Dr Jens Knodel, Smart Farming project manager.

After the trade show, the exhibit will be converted into a 'Living Lab'.

“It is not restricted to agriculture, but may be of interest to small and medium-sized enterprises, for instance,” says Dr Knodel. “Based on the production units installed in the laboratory, they can see the benefits that networking holds for them – and launch their own development projects.”

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