How Bear Flag Robotics Is Cultivating the Future of Farming
The evolution of the technology involved in producing our food is always evolving to keep up with changing tastes, preferences and demand. Today, smart agriculture, often called "smart ag" or "agtech", is among the most widely discussed ways that advancements in technology are being leveraged to optimize processes and power innovation. From crop phenotyping and data-driven irrigation strategies, to vision-assisted sorting and edge compute-powered supply chain management, growers are embracing technology to help offset increasing costs and keep pace with consumer needs.
One area driving growth, so to speak, in agtech is also impacting virtually every industry, and it's the particular area of focus for Bear Flag Robotics.
Autonomous vehicles are most commonly associated with self-driving cars or package delivery robots, but vision-assisted, computer-controlled equipment is revolutionizing farming as well. Founded to reduce the cost of growing food while increasing global production, Newark, California-based Bear Flag Robotics builds best-in-class autonomous technology for agriculture equipment. They strive to enable safe, productive and efficient farming operations that act as a force multiplier for the next generation of growers. Bear Flag's technology centralizes equipment operations, creating a Mission Control with real-time information about everything happening on a tractor, from engine health to time-to-completion of various field-based tasks. In addition to real time telemetry, Mission Control operators also have access to 360º live video feeds. This means that no matter what happens in the field, operators are able to assess and optimize operations, taking over direct control of the equipment when needed.
Compute Power That's Outstanding In Its Field
From the early stages of development, the Bear Flag team recognized the challenges of integrating advanced computing power into equipment designed to work in dusty and damp fields while being exposed to a wide range of temperatures and significant vibration. Bear Flag's technology leverages edge computers for processing perception data from radar, lidar and various cameras, as well as other localization sensors. All of that computer vision information requires an on-tractor gateway to collect, process and transmit data back to Mission Control. The Bear Flag team turned to OnLogic for a computing solution that would be both versatile and reliable. Equipment outfitted with Bear Flag technology routinely runs for many days straight, only stopping for refueling or moving between fields.
“Agricultural environments are harsh and unforgiving. Every part of the technology needs to be reliable and built for the challenges of outdoor, 24/7 operation to ensure growers are able to get the most possible value out of our systems. Full situational awareness for a farm tractor also requires a considerable amount of compute. OnLogic hardware was a perfect fit in terms of featureset, footprint, and reliability for our autonomous tractor technology.”- Igino Cafiero, CEO & Founder of Bear Flag Robotics
The goal of Bear Flag's work is not to replace farm workers, but instead to free them from hours spent confined to a tractor cab and give them the time to focus on other revenue generating tasks around the farm. Their autonomous tractors are also able to monitor their environment with a superhuman ability, seeing and tracking objects no single human operator could. In addition to safer operations, Bear Flag technology also monitors tractor health, ensuring that faults are quickly relayed to the operator so they can be addressed before they become dangerous, or create costly extended downtime.
Bear Flag's technology is currently offered through a Farming as a Service (FaaS) model, an increasingly popular way for landowners to manage farmland. Growers can lease equipment outfitted with Bear Flag's sensors and set up their own Mission Control for the time it takes to plow or harvest their fields. In the future, Bear Flag plans to offer their technology as a product that growers can install to turn their existing equipment into autonomous machines. Igino and his team expect edge computers from OnLogic to continue to be a crucial ingredient to their success.
“The sensor loads that we need to process are not transmittable over the existing network infrastructure in real time. Edge computing is the best solution for agriculture today. OnLogic will be a crucial partner for Bear Flag as we continue our mission to reduce the cost of growing food and increase global food production.”- Igino Cafiero, CEO & Founder of Bear Flag Robotics