Automating Food Production with AI and Robotics

The shocks of Covid-19 have forced governments and agencies to find not only new ways to protect life from disease, but also to create a more sustainable and equitable world. As the world cautiously recovers from the pandemic, one Japanese company - Kubota - is poised to tackle these pressing global issues. The Kubota Corporation has developed life-sustaining technologies in the areas of food, water and the environment. Constant attention to these areas has enabled this Osaka-based company to become the world's leading supplier of agricultural machinery and water infrastructure, as well as a major manufacturer of engines, small construction equipment and commercial vehicles.

In its vision released in February, titled GMB 2030, President Kitao identified three business pillars: "Increasing food productivity and safety," "Promoting the circulation of water resources and waste," and "Improving the urban and living environment." Sustainability is at the heart of all three pillars.
Kubota hopes to become a "major innovator" in sustaining life while achieving carbon neutrality as a company by 2050. In 2014, Kubota launched the KUBOTA Smart Agri System (KSAS), a cloud support system for rice production that integrates and visualizes IoT data collected from Kubota's farm equipment. There are already more than 2,300 farms in Japan using this system to save labor and achieve better crop quality. Kubota will develop automated and unmanned agricultural machinery for growing crops such as rice, wheat and fruit trees.

In recent years, the company has formed alliances with leading technology companies such as Microsoft and NVIDIA. With this latest partnership, Kubota will be at the forefront of developing a fully autonomous tractor. The tractor being developed will be able to operate without human supervision while analyzing weather and crop data. Such autonomous devices will be a boon to the many regions facing a shortage of farmers.
Unlike grain production, fruit production lags behind in automation and efficiency and remains heavily dependent on manual labor. The automation of the industry is challenging, in part because of the way fruit grows - irregular clusters of vines and trees - and also because of space limitations in orchards. Kubota compact tractors are already used for some fruits, such as grapes, olives and papaya, in South America and Europe. However, Kubota is also working on forward-looking solutions for labor management.

Last year, the Dutch company Agtech Aurea Imaging announced a strategic partnership to demonstrate the feasibility of autonomous orchard and farming systems using drones and IoT.
Another important trend in smart agriculture is industrial farming in urban areas, with "vertical farms" being installed in or near major cities to ensure a stable supply of fresh produce near densely populated areas. In this area, Kubota has invested in PLANTX, a Japanese start-up company developing a cultivation system that uses artificial light and growth rate management. The system is divided into spaces where environmental conditions are controlled, resulting in higher productivity than conventional crops.
The KUBOTA Smart Infrastructure System (KSIS) promises to realize a unique IoT system that provides remote monitoring, diagnosis and control services for water and environmental facilities.
The IoT enables remote monitoring of various plants and hydraulic equipment. The operating status can be displayed in real time, the collected monitoring data can be analyzed to detect irregularities in advance, and repairs and upgrades can be planned quickly and effectively. KSIS thus ensures improved operational efficiency and life cycle costs. The goal is not only to build resilient but regenerative water systems that contribute to a circular economy.
Kubota's technologies for recovering energy sources such as methane and substances or phosphorus from wastewater from treatment plants to generate electricity and fertilizer can contribute to a circular economy. Capabilities such as Kubota's to preserve every drop of water throughout its life cycle - from source to water pipes to households and back through wastewater systems and treatment plants - will be critical in shaping tomorrow's renewable water systems.