As artificial intelligence (AI) and autonomous machines become more common in agriculture, the industry is going through enormous changes. Ofir Schlam, CEO and co-founder of Taranis, a leading precision agriculture intelligence platform, recently shared more information about these changes in an interview.
Taranis is an AI-powered agriculture intelligence platform that was selected to be part of John Deere’s startup collaborator. It uses sophisticated computer vision, data science and deep learning algorithms to enable farmers to make informed decisions.
The platform is capable of monitoring fields and finding early symptoms of uneven emergence, weeds, nutrient deficiencies, disease or insect infestations, water damage and equipment issues. Overseeing millions of acres of farmland in the U.S., Argentina, Ukraine, Brazil and Russia, the company employs over 75 people worldwide and is headquartered in Tel Aviv with subsidiaries in Argentina, Brazil and the U.S.
“We started as a tool to provide farmers with the information to detect and prevent crop disease, weeds and insect damage based on weather forecasts. We later developed our technology more by adding visual layers from planes, satellites and drones and leveraged it with AI capabilities, even creating a one-of-a-kind patented hardware that can capture accurate images at a high resolution from a plane flying at 160 km/h, such as a specific insect on a leaf from 200 feet above ground,” Schlam says.
Taranis relies on AI and machine learning. While Taranis’ imagery has enough resolution to scout an entire field, without automation it is of little use. That is why it employs deep-learning methods to “teach” the software what each problem looks like on a crop-to-crop basis. This is a very complex process, which requires an accurate data set of hundreds of thousands of symptoms, manually tagged by Taranis’ team of 120 expert agronomists. Once ready, Taranis’ AI system will help to better pinpoint problems so that the platform can seamlessly offer automated, accurate prescriptions.
Taranis is part of an industry trend of autonomous and AI solutions. “It is amazing to think that the first autonomous vehicle is actually a tractor! These GPS-enabled tractors can plant, spray and harvest the field with a professional in the driver’s seat, just in case. These autonomous tractors work off of a prescription file, like the ones Taranis generates, to spray weeds, insects and diseases, only where the product is needed,” Schlam shares.
The CEO of Taranis explains that most farmers have reacted positively to the technology. He believes it has to do with how visual the platform is, and the fact that farmers know how challenging it is to manage and keep track of such a huge expanse of land. Controlling problems and preventing them is all about timing. But like any new technology, it takes several seasons to build the needed credibility.
“I think we will see even more autonomous operations with tractors, irrigation systems and beyond-line-of-sight drone systems. We will see each field’s needs being met precisely by managing smaller and smaller management zones in the field. With crop management systems, like Taranis, farmers will be able to make decisions such as seed selection in real-time as opposed to planning ahead of the planting season, where it is difficult to predict any unforeseen changes that might affect the crops,” Schlam predicts.
Currently, Taranis is focused on automating and expanding its database of large commodity crops in order to identify more plant diseases, types of weeds and insects. The company is working on increasing the number of available sensor streams in order to get more data from the ground, such as by tapping into irrigation systems and tractors. Its next steps are working with crop insurance companies to help farmers file their claims, and insurance companies to verify those claims. Schlam wants Taranis to be used as an auditing tool for banks and farm lenders, streamlining the overall process for farmers and insurers alike. With enough coverage and information, Taranis will be able to assist growers and commodity traders in marketing their production in a smarter way. Eventually, it wants every acre in the world to achieve a substantial increase in yields and profit.
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