Self-driving robots key to future of our food

Move over manufacturing; agriculture is fast approaching the lights-out farm.
Written by Greg Nichols, Contributing Writer

Acquisitions are shaking up the smart farming landscape. The latest example comes via Fieldin, the world's largest smart farm operations management company for high-value crops, which has acquired agricultural autonomous driving company Midnight Robotics.

The acquisition is a sign of rapid maturation in smart farming, which uses IoT sensors and AI to manage farm operations with unprecedented precision and is helping reshape food manufacturing in wealthy markets. The acquisition creates a sensor-based operational farming platform with autonomous driving technologies to empower growers in the day-to-day management of their farms. It's the ag equivalent of the lights out farm, and the concept has already been deployed in large California farms.

"Many people think that autonomous tractors are some magic solution, but at the end of the day, they're just machinery -- your autonomous farm can only be as good as your farm management data, and that's why this acquisition is driving the autonomous farming revolution forward," says Boaz Bachar, CEO and Co-Founder of Fieldin. "Over the past eight years, we've digitized hundreds of farms and over 10,000 tractors and pieces of farming equipment -- more than anyone else in the high-value crop world -- and amassed a trove of invaluable data that can offer insights into best practices in farm management. By acquiring Midnight Robotics, we're helping farmers close the loop from insight to autonomous action, so they know exactly what they need to do and execute it autonomously, all through the same platform."

Agriculture has been rapidly adopting IoT and automation technology in response to growing pressures that include labor scarcity, climate change, and drought. Precision agriculture, the catch-all for digital technology-powered farming, is being adopted in various use cases to introduce manufacturing-level efficiencies into food production. 

Fieldin's platform collects farming data via distributed sensor networks and offers guided decision-making insights about things like pesticide use and water management. Thanks to the addition of autonomous tractors, the decisions can now be executed autonomously. Fieldin is retrofitting tractors and other farming machinery with LiDAR-based autonomy kits that feed data back to its platform in real-time.

"It's not enough to have great agricultural data or great autonomous technology -- you need to have both to make autonomous farming a reality. What's so powerful about this merger is the potent combination of Fieldin's unparalleled farming data collection, which includes over 49 million hours' worth of tractor driving, with our driverless technology expertise," Midnight Robotics co-founder Yonatan Horovitz. "We're excited to join forces with Fieldin because only together will we be able to help farmers reap the benefits of smart and autonomous farming -- not a decade from now, but today."

The company's retrofit kit is capable of turning any tractor into a robot using advanced LiDAR perception algorithms.

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