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Virginia Tech Debuts Latest Technology Triumph: SmartFarm

ALEXANDRIA, VA – A cool, sunny day on the Potomac. Horses and oxen and sheep roam the fields. Foliage grows green and vigorous. George Washington’s Mount Vernon is a national treasure frozen in time. But on Wednesday October 20th, Virginia Tech Representatives showed how they are bringing agricultural techniques into the 21st century.

George Washington’s 16-sided barn. (Photo Grace Billups Arnold)

George Washington was a pioneer in agriculture (along with his other notable titles) when he developed the 16-sided barn. Now, almost 300 years later, SmartFarm innovation network, along with Virginia Techs Center for advanced innovation in agriculture, has a different new way of farming.

Assistant Professor Hasan Seyyedhasani demonstrates the technology. (Photo Grace Billups Arnold)

Drones, robots and sensor technology will work together to optimize agriculture strategy and hopefully influence climate change.

Dr. Robin White demonstrates portable animal sensor technology with the help of Mikey the horse. (Photo Grace Billups Arnold)

The technology was developed by Dr. Robin White, Assistant Professor, Department of Animal and Poultry Sciences, Center for Advanced Innovation in Agriculture at Virginia Tech, and her assistant Mikey the Horse were introduced.

“Well, I think we’ve all asked ourselves the question, ‘What gets you out of bed in the morning?’ At some point in our lives,” Dr. White, “and for me the answer to that question is the idea … to feed the world.”

As the world population grows and environmental and agricultural resources are depleted, this question becomes more relevant and society is constantly evolving to answer it.

From the industrial revolution to the green revolution, society has now advanced into the data revolution. SmartFarm uses data collected from different arable land to understand variations in agricultural systems. This understanding will enable institutions like Virginia Tech to develop farming practices that improve productivity and take into account the impact on the environment.

So how can we move to other farming systems that minimize waste and improve resource efficiency and productivity? Mikey the horse helped Dr. White to answer that question.

Mikey’s tail sensor. (Photo Grace Billups Arnold)

During the demonstration, Mikey wore sensors on his tail, head and hooves to measure three things:

  • when and where he relieves himself;
  • his well-being, such as stress level, temperature, heart rate;
  • and his number of steps.
The roaming robot moves autonomously or remotely. (Photo Grace Billups Arnold)

These sensors send information to autonomous vehicles such as roaming robots or flying drones that monitor the state of the field. One measurement could be the hydrology of the field, for example. If Mikey faeced in a particularly hydrogen-rich area, his tail sensor would communicate with the robot to distribute the animal excrement to another specific part of the field that may need more hydrogen.

Another example could be the measurement of plant quality by flying drones, which could collect atmospheric and soil data to determine the overall health of the plant environment.

The aim of this process is to precisely manage the agricultural environment in order to create the best climatological balance by protecting the plants, balancing the chemical composition of the field and ensuring the highest quality of life for the animals.

“By collecting all the data, we can work to improve the profitability of the entire operation,” said Dr. White.

Although SmartFarm technology is still being perfected, what was demonstrated at Mount Vernon was a milestone in agricultural practice and a true miracle. Hopefully, SmartFarm will be able to improve the profitability of not only a single farm as a whole, but maybe farmland around the world as well.


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