Student’s Corner

Are smart farms the future of agriculture? From smart watches for cows to smart tractors for crops, recent innovations have been taking farming to a whole new level. Traditionally, cows on farms are monitored by energy intensive devices that are powered via chemical batteries. Farms are already high emission operations, so it’s important to save energy whenever possible. There have been several proposed solutions such as solar-powered devices that may be too dependent on variable weather conditions for them to be viable. However, researchers from China have recently come up with a device powered by kinetic energy, meaning that it captures the energy from the daily movements of cows. 

The amount of energy actually generated from cows on a daily basis is much higher than one would expect; any range of motions–big or small–from walking and running along the pastures to the neck movements involved in grazing are enough to convert into usable energy. These smart watches can be worn on the cows’ ankles or necks and can track a number of crucial data for farmers including health, reproductivity, and location. Zutao Zhang, one of the researchers working on this device, says that his team’s device harvests the energy via magnets and pendulum to intensify the cows’ movements. This allows the device to specialize on making the most out of small movements and weak motions. When tested on humans, it was found that only a light jog was necessary to begin measuring temperature. 

The scallop-shaped device utilizes a shell that generates electricity by electromagnetically converting kinetic energy, which then powers a wireless, lithium battery. Alone, this equipment can track cow exercise levels, cycles of reproduction, milk production, humidity, breeding productivity, concentration of oxygen, temperature of the air, diseases, and overall cow health–all of which is immensely important information for farmers to ensure the welfare of their cows. The greatest upside of this new piece of technology is its sustainability factor; by increasing efficiency of monitoring cows and reducing emissions while doing so puts farmers one step closer to creating smart farms and pushing themselves and their farms in the right direction for a more environmentally-conscious future in agriculture. Researchers also hope to use similar technology in other applications such as the monitoring of sports, smart homes, and healthcare systems.

Now, what is a smart farm with smart watches without smart tractors? A Silicon-Valley area based company Monarch Tractor has created entirely autonomous tractors using Nvidia artificial intelligence, meaning that their tractors run all on their own without the supervision and operation of a human or farmer on standby. Just this week, they are beginning the first shipments of their tractors to farms and vineyards across California. 

Traditionally, most tractors use diesel fuel, but these smart tractors help reduce emissions since they are entirely electric, making them the most sustainable and eco-friendly option for farm equipment. The MK-V battery can take 5 to 12 hours to fully charge and operate for up to 10 hours at a time at 30 kilowatts of power, also claiming to offer twice as much torque as traditional tractors. These tractors have a range of abilities, such as harvesting, watering, and spraying fertilizers, pesticides, and more. Each battery is said to save farms $2600 in fuel costs and 34,000 pounds of carbon emissions, not to mention the labor saved from the absence of required tractor drivers. 

The smart tractor itself utilizes 360 degree vision with an array of 3D and standard cameras to help it on its way through crop rows. Using an onboard, high performance computer, the tractor can make crop yield estimates for long-term standards, survey weather conditions, analyze the growth stages of the different plants, and keep track of overall crop health. Just like the smart watches, these tractors help bring the agriculture industry just one step closer to sustainable, smart farming, even when taking production costs into account.

Photo by Stijn te Strake on Unsplash

Written by Carole Wilay (’25)

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