Robot Helpers

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A newly designed centre irrigation pivot will do more than just water your crops, it’ll also monitor them and alert you of any problems.

For decades, centre irrigation pivots have rolled through fields and watered crops. However that is changing as technology is allowing the pivot to become a more versatile implement. This summer Lindsay Corporation will have its Smart Pivots, an irrigation pivot, which monitors crops in growers’ fields across North America and the world.

“It’s a multi-year development project,” Wade Sikkink, director of global product management at Lindsay Corporation, says in a phone interview. “The coming growing season is going to be primarily driven towards large scale field validation of these different developments, it will be for the ’22 growing season where we will start to really commercialize parts of the development of the product.”

The Smart Pivot is an irrigation pivot which uses sensors, high-resolution imagery and advanced algorithms to monitor crops, both above and below the canopy, while also determining if a crop needs more or less water. The pivot also supervises itself and can contact a dealer for service when needed.

The technology which made the Smart Pivot possible has been years in development. With advancements in network connectivity through edge computing, it has allowed large advancements in precision agriculture technologies, Sikkink explains.

“The ability for network communication technology to be able to function in a rugged environment is one of the key developments that’s allowed us to start to do this,” he says. “We can actually use the same type of networking technology and communication hardware that’s used in computer networks… it can be designed in such a way to work in the outdoor in the hot and the cold, wet environment.”

Smart Pivote anomaly detection
The Smart Pivot checks crop health and can detect anomalies and show them through a computer or mobile device platform. Photo: Lindsay Corporation

Advancements in artificial intelligence also assisted in the development of the Smart Pivot. Sikkink says while artificial intelligence has been around for a while, recent advancements has allowed it to be able to be used for agriculture now.

While the Smart Pivot can water fields as traditional pivots have done for decades, the real advantage is the crop monitoring it provides. While farmers can use drones or do a traditional crop check by walking through their fields, neither of these offers 24/7 crop monitoring — a Smart Pivot does though. Pivots are in fields 24/7 and can roll over the crop, whether watering or not, in order to monitor the field.

“Instead of having to hire a company to fly an airplane over the field, or fly a drone, or maybe hire people to come out and physically scout the field, (growers) can get more benefit from the investment they’ve already made. Their centre pivot can do more than just irrigate, which adds a higher value to the component for them,” Sikkink explains.

If the Smart Pivot detects an abnormality in the field, it will alert the grower through a notification on their computer or mobile device, and the grower can then send a drone to check it out closer. Growers can also monitor water intake in the field and decide on irrigation schedules through the platform.

While Lindsay is launching their field tests of the Smart Pivot this growing season, they aren’t the only company trying to add value to the centre pivot. Other companies offer technology such as remote irrigation control over smart phone and computer applications.

“There are a lot of small ag tech start-ups that are doing this kind of work to help bring things like artificial intelligence and machine vision to improving the operations of grower. Really anybody in the in the ag space these days is exploring these kinds of opportunities,” Sikkink says. “I’m certain that other center pivot companies are exploring different ideas here, particularly given our public announcements on the development plans.”