Global food production system is facing tremendous challenges. Agricultural productivity needs to increase significantly to feed a growing global population, while its environmental footprint must decrease to help mitigate climate change. In addition, millions of farmers worldwide, work long hours to provide us with nutritious food and operate in tough socio-economic environments. Hence the productivity and environmental challenges must be tackled in a way that also allows farmers to make a decent living.
A multitude of technologies and innovations are underway to tackle this multi-faceted challenge. One technology that is already available today and that could make a meaningful contribution to driving digital transformation in agriculture and solving the challenges of our food system is the smart glass technology. Smart glasses are mobile connectivity devices that make collecting, sending, and receiving information easier for frontline workers on the field. They enable tapping into knowledge on-the-spot. Agricultural adopters of the Smart Glass technology are experiencing the four benefits below:
1. Sharing knowledge and facilitating communication on innovative solutions
Agriculture is ever becoming more technical and dependent on advanced agronomic expertise. Therefore, farmers’ success increasingly depends on access to technical knowledge. On the other hand, many critical tasks at the farm (e.g. harvesting) depend on seasonal workers. High-skilled seasonal workers are increasingly hard to find, making it even more challenging for the farm manager to build and retain a workforce with the experience and knowledge required to do the job. Smart glasses offer possibilities for knowledge sharing and accelerated on-the-job training at three distinct levels. Firstly, “see-what-I-see" video conferencing feature of smart glasses provide new superior possibilities to connect experts with those in demand for expertise or to display new products, technologies, or practices in the field to a larger audience than before. Secondly, the “digital workflow guidance” feature provides frontline workers with procedural guidance in the corner of their eye while they are carrying out their jobs. This has proven to reduce errors and shorten learning cycles of new employees. Finally, smart glasses can augment the work of an operator by providing computer vision AI (Artificial Intelligence) based real-time decision support, e.g. which fruits are ripe enough to harvest, which pest is present on the crop and which mitigating measures should be taken.
2. Faster and more accurate troubleshooting
Experts can give advice anytime, anywhere with the help of smart glasses. Agronomic, horticultural, and veterinary consultants save significant travel time, allowing them to help more customers and enable the grower to respond faster to production issues. They can support the growers by diagnosing plant or animal health issues and recommending treatments more efficiently. The result will be improved crop or animal health, improved profitability, and a superior customer relationship.
Agricultural machinery and equipment suppliers as well as their customers can benefit from smart glasses by eliminating downtime, reducing service time and costs of after-sales support, thus improving overall customer service, satisfaction, and productivity.
3. Facilitating innovation in the agro-biotech sector by enabling more efficient data collection
Innovation is more than ever dependent on efficient and qualitative data collection. Whether it is dealing with the development of new varieties or the discovery of new crop protection or bio-stimulant actives, researchers are consistently dealing with a tough numbers game. Intensive data collection on large quantities of breeding lines, microorganisms, or molecules is central in the respective R&D programs to drive decisions on selecting the next superior product.
Despite the impressive developments in digital phenotyping over the past decade, most of the phenotypic data collection in commercial R&D programs still relies on visual observations. The speech-to-text functionalities of smart glasses enable a significant boost in efficiency in visual data collection in the greenhouse and the field. They circumvent the practical issues that occur with handheld mobile devices in the field (not having your hands free for taking hands-on measurements, mud, glare, temperature sensitivity…) by enabling hands-free data collection and measurement taking. Being rugged, the smart glasses are weather resistant, and they provide a clear vision of the information needed on their heads-up display, even on a sunny day. Smart glasses also remove hassle and reduce errors that can come with the administrative data handling after a day in the field taking notes on paper.
In addition, Smart glasses can function as a low-cost digital phenotyping device which can reach areas that are hard to reach for drones or other sensor-to-plant phenotyping platforms, like the bottom side of leaves or inside the canopy.
4. Quality assurance and traceability
Fast and accurate traceability of products from farm-to-fork plays a vital role in the food supply chain. Barcode scanning and hands-free data collection features of smart glasses help with effective traceability of a product from farm production till the retailer shelves. Quality controllers across the supply chain can work more efficiently as they can document their inspection results in a hands-free manner, while using their hands to handle the produce. Making it easier to document quality specs at all the different touch points across the supply chain, will automatically lead to an increased transparency about the quality of our food.
Complementing this, smart glasses enabled workflow with vision technology can provide digital quality standards across the supply chain. This increases objectiveness of the quality control work, which guarantees high-quality standards for the consumer and minimizes disputes between interacting entities in the supply chain. As such Smart glasses can give a significant boost towards a fully digitalized agri-food supply chain.
Traceability is also a key point of attention in agro-biotech research and operations, where operators have to deal with handling laboratory samples, regulated materials, or large quantities of breeding lines. Smart glasses can drive efficiencies and reduce errors through hands-free barcode scanning, speech-to-text data collection and providing digital procedures to run through.
Access to knowledge and experience is a key driver of success in the production of food. About 40% of earth’s land surface is used for agriculture, employing about 27% of the world’s active population. Hence, agriculture is in strong demand for tools that help transferring knowledge at scale. Smart glasses represent a cost-effective way to address this demand and to augment this large workforce, facilitating knowledge exchange and data capturing and thereby driving efficiency and quality. The use cases and benefits are not limited to the ones described above. With the advancement of Smart glass technology and the software ecosystem around it, the features and the benefits will touch upon other areas within agriculture and our food supply chain. We see this as just the beginning and you can get on board at this early stage to stay ahead of the curve.
Business Development Manager Agribiotech
Plant Physiologist and Greenhouse Expert