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Robots vs Monsanto

Agricultural robots are the long-term future of the agrochemical business and the verdict Monsanto’s glyphosate responsible for causing cancer only serves to reinforce this argument, says DR KHASHA GHAFFARZADEH, Research Director at IDTechEx.

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Last week a US court held Monsanto’s glyphosate responsible for causing cancer in a ground keeper, awarding $289M of damages. This is a critical verdict in that it demonstrates that glyphosate – as one of the most popular non-selective herbicides worldwide- is on shaky ground. Indeed, for some time now, this agrochemical has managed only to just about retain its legal permits in the face of mounting concern over its toxicity. This verdict, even if subject to appeal, will have surely sounded the alarm bells in the board rooms of agrochemical companies worldwide.

You might wonder what the link between this verdict and agricultural robotics is? The answer is everything. In a previous articleauthored two years ago, I had argued that agricultural robots are the long-term future of the agrochemical business. This verdict only serves to reinforce this argument, demonstrating that agrochemical businesses need to urgently start reinventing themselves as being in the business of controlling weeds, and not just agrochemical supplies. Inevitably, robots, AI, and smart agricultural tools will come to form a major part of a weed control (not chemical) focused business.

To learn more see the IDTechEx Research report Agricultural Robots and Drones 2018-2038: Technologies, Markets and Players. This report analyses how robotic market and technology developments will change the business of agriculture, enabling ultra-precision and/or autonomous farming and helping address key global challenges. It also develops a detailed roadmap of how robotic technology will become the future of agrochemicals business and how it will modify the way we design agricultural machinery.

Precision agriculture has been around for decades. From its early days, this approach has sought to utilize imaging techniques to enable precision identification and thus precision action taking. However, at the time, the cost of data acquisition (via sensors and cameras) and processing was prohibitively high, both in time and money terms, to warrant any commercial implementation.

That has now all changed thanks to developments in other industries such as consumer electronics. Indeed, for several years now, companies have demonstrated robotics equipped with deep learning based advance vison technologies that can rapidly distinguish between crops and weeds and to rapidly take site specific action to eliminate the weed. One such example was Blue River Technologies which was acquired by John Deere in 2017 for $305M. Interestingly, Blue River Technologies counted amongst its investors some of the world’s largest agrochemical makers including Monsanto!

This approach is radically different from the glyphosate-based approach in which the non-selective herbicide kills everything apart from the genetically engineered seeds. This action is site- or even potentially plant- specific, requiring the use of customized weed control action which could be a precision sprayed selective speciality chemical. This technology also lays the foundation for doing more than just weed control, e.g., it can evolve to site specific fertilizer and nutrient deposition technique.

This technique is only set to improve. The algorithms will certainly get better with practise or more real data. The cost of data acquisition, management, and analysis will only further fall. And the fleets of unmanned small robots will increasingly become sufficiently productive to compete with large manned agricultural vehicles. All these technologies have significant upside potential whereas the existing technologies has long matured, making only small incremental gains.

So what will all of this mean for the agrochemical business? We believe that agrochemicals companies have no choice but to become intricately involved with robotics and AI. These two technologies will shape the future of their business. The advent of precision see-and-spray technologies will drastically impact on the volume and type of the chemicals employed, potentially transforming the business from one in which they sell bulk non-selective chemicals towards one in which they sell many specialized selective chemicals tailored to various plants. Furthermore, the value chain will become more digitized with data and intelligence capturing a more significant part of the overall value. This will inevitably enable new data-based farm management techniques in which agrochemicals are used differently than today.

This self-reinvention by agrochemical companies needs to start soon. It will not be as easy or an overnight transition. It requires that agrochemical companies build up new skillsets and establish new technologies and business models. It will also somewhat blur the boundaries between tool making and chemical suppliers as the two become intractably intertwined.

It might that incumbent companies become tempted to not act since today their current practise remains more productive and lower cost than emerging alternative technologies including robotic based solutions. But such companies forget the direction of technological travel at their own peril. Agricultural robotics will shape the long-term future of agrochemical business. This long-term future however may be upon us sooner if similar court cases put legal restrains on the current technology, raising its risk and costs, and if herbicide-resistant weeds continue their rapid march across areas in which such chemicals are heavily used.

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New iPhone pricing for SA

The iStore has announced that the latest iPhones, the Xs and Xs Max, can now be pre-ordered at www.myistore.co.za , and will be available in stores starting 28 September 2018.

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iPhone Xs and iPhone Xs Max feature 5.8-inch and 6.5-inch Super Retina displays that offer remarkable brightness and true blacks while showing 60 percent greater dynamic range in HDR photos. iPhone Xs and iPhone Xs Max have an improved dual camera system that offers breakthrough photo and video features, A12 Bionic chip with next-generation Neural Engine, faster Face ID, wider stereo sound, longer battery life, splash and water resistance,

Pre-orders will be open for cash purchases and on iStore’s revised payment plan in partnership with FNB Credit Card, allowing customers to pay off their iPhone at a reduced interest rate. However, the contract period is 37 months rather than the usual 24 months.
*FNB Credit Card Payment Plan, price per month over 37 months, a 40% trade-in value after 24 months

How to pre-order – Pre-ordering online for either cash or the FNB payment plan gives customers the benefit of reserving their purchase without having to queue and the added convenience of having purchases delivered directly to their door. Pre-orders of iPhone Xs and Xs Max are completed online by visiting www.myistore.co.za.
FREE iCare Plus – Exclusive to iStore, all customers can get its 2-year extended warranty, which includes one Apple Certified screen repair, that normally sells for R1 999, for FREE. To qualify, customers should secure a voucher online now at www.myistore.co.za , and subsequently redeem it when they upgrade their contract or purchase any new iPhone at iStore (iPhone 8 and newer) between now and 31 December 2018. Offer is limited, secure your voucher now.

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Accenture opens Fjord design centre in Johannesburg

Accenture has launched its first design and innovation studio on African soil, Fjord Johannesburg.

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The company says the move significantly expands its design capabilities and demonstrates its commitment to unlocking Africa’s innovation potential through the creation of experiences that redefine industries in our constantly evolving digital era.

The new studio, opening in November, will be located at Accenture’s new 3875m² offices in Waterfall. It will be led by Marcel Rossouw, design director and studio lead for Fjord Johannesburg.

Said Rossouw, “Brands are constantly asking, ’how does one take a business need or problem, build that out into a definition of a service experience, and then bring it to market?’ It’s about re-engineering existing service experiences, identifying customer needs, prototyping rapidly, iterating often and proving or disproving assumptions. But it’s also about getting feedback from customers. The combination of these factors helps companies advance towards the ultimate service experience.”

Fjord is the design and innovation consultancy of Accenture Interactive. The Johannesburg location marks its 28th design studio globally, solidifying its position as the world’s leading design powerhouse.

Working in the same location as Accenture Interactive will allow Fjord to fuse its core design strategy DNA with the digital agency’s expertise in marketing, content and commerce to create and deliver the best customer experiences for the world’s leading brands. Accenture Interactive Africa‘s blend of intelligent design and creative use of technology has already been used by some of South Africa’s largest and most prominent brands, including Alexander Forbes, Discovery, MultiChoice and Nedbank. The digital agency has also earned industry accolades for its innovative and compelling business results, most notably two gold awards in the Service Design category at the 2017 and 2018 Loeries awards.

“Great design tells great stories,” says Wayne Hull, managing director of Accenture Digital and Accenture Interactive lead in Africa. “It unifies a brand, drives innovation and makes the brand or service distinctive and hyper-relevant in both the digital and physical worlds. This is critical to achieving results. Having Fjord Johannesburg as part of Accenture Interactive, and collaborating with all of Accenture Africa, will provide unique experiences and forward-thinking capabilities for our clients.”

“Businesses in South Africa are becoming more design-aware and are looking to take greater advantage of design skills to compete with the rest of the world,” said Thomas Müller, head of Europe, Africa and Latin America at Fjord. “We’re excited to open our first design studio on the continent and to be part of an emerging market that is ripe for design and innovation, and open for business. Developing markets like South Africa are challenging assumptions and norms about what digital services and products are meant to be, and we’ll strive to put design at the heart of the innovation being produced there.”

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