Sufficient and sustainable food production is one the most pressing challenges of our society. Rising global population, climate change and unsustainable farming practices create enormous pressure to develop paradigm-shifting ways to produce food in the near future. Our goal is to make a strong contribution to this field through concerted action involving all major players in Switzerland.

New robotics, sensing and AI-tools will enable us in the near future to continuously monitor the development of agricultural fields and precisely intervene when and where it is needed. This results in increased productivity and yields, and drastically reduces the output of fertilizers and herbicides. It also allows traceability of the food value chain from the farmer to the final consumer.

The Swiss Smart Farming goals: growing more with less!

 Some key figures by the Global Opportunity Network:

  • 18% annual increase in profits for a farmer using precision farming
  • 55 billion USD expected market size for digital-based farming services in 2020 worldwide
  • 60% of farmers say precision farming will become the norm as technology advances

Switzerland has a rich tradition of sustainable farming, some of the biggest global corporates in the food value chain, cutting-edge startups and outstanding international recognition in robotics, advanced sensing and AI. The country is well positioned to take a global leadership role in smart farming. When it masters the related technologies and applications, Switzerland will contribute to more efficient and sustainable agriculture and therefore also combat hunger to reach the Sustainable Development Goals by delivering full transparence to consumers.

The digitalswitzerland Swiss Smart Farming Matterhorn programme will help establish Switzerland as one of the world leaders and game-changers in smart farming, generate societal value and open new economic opportunities.

Showcasing the technology’s potential and convincing others to join

The programme’s approach is to start with focused pilots that demonstrate the technology’s potential to convince other partners to join the consortium. The programme will evolve into an interdisciplinary and inter-institutional new business ecosystem with joint startups and/or joint ventures. Partners are expected to make a financial and/or in-kind contribution to develop the project and pilots.

The first year (2019) focuses on data collection from the air and data analytics. This includes fully autonomous out of line-of-sight flights and proven integration of drones in the public airspace.

The following year, automatic data analytics and demonstrations to farmers in a designated area of 10 km2 in Switzerland will highlight the benefits of smart farming.

Autonomous BVLOS flights and first measurements in the field

Since the programme’s launch on Digital Day (October 2018), the first big milestone was already reached in early January 2019: an autonomous flight of 70 km in 70 minutes with a solar drone around Lake Neuchâtel. It was a pioneering BVLOS (beyond visual line of sight) flight in a restricted area of the Swiss public airspace.

It was a tremendous success and a big step for both ETH’s Autonomous Systems Lab (the initiator of the Swiss Smart Farming Programme) and for the Swiss Smart Farming Matterhorn project. The trial flight demonstrated UAVs’ ability to operate autonomously over long distances and for long durations, offering applications in agriculture, environmental inspections and monitoring. Find more details on the pilot fight here.

Following the kick-off workshop on 9 January 2019, the Swiss Smart Farming consortium is growing with new startups, corporates, government and non-government institutions and foundations. The first field measurements will start in March. These will be performed with a drone, a multi-copter equipped with a camera, an infrared camera and hyper-spectral-imaging device. The second aerial data collection flight campaign is planned for the spring-summer 2020 with real-time feedback to farmers and suggestions of potential interventions.

With intentions transformed into action, planning into doing and research into practice, bridges between science, technology, industry and consumers will soon be built and will bring better food to every corner of the planet, with the initial impulse given by smart farming in Switzerland.

 

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Author Prof. Roland Siegwart, Professor of Autonomous Systems, ETH Zurich

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