Jul 31, 2014
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Growing Technology

RSS By: Ben Potter, AgWeb.com

Technology editor Ben Potter brings you the latest in technology news, and how you can apply it to farming.
 

 

3-D Printing: Real-Life Lessons

Jul 25, 2014

I just finished reading an article over at Fast Company about a UPS Store in San Diego. UPS installed a $20,000 3-D printer at this location to test it out. It was targeted to small businesses and startups to assist them in building their products.

As far as tests go, this particular one passed with flying colors. In fact, UPS expects to install more 3-D printers into stores across the country.

The agriculture industry – and the ag retail sector in particular – should take note. The big "so what" about 3-D printing is that it has the potential to drastically reduce inventory needs. So the next time a customer comes in with a broken chain or worn-down seed tubes that need replacing, for example, the retailer would simply print out new parts instead of keeping them on hand or ordering them.

The 3-D print sector grew from 21% between 2012 and 2013, according to UPS Store’s small business technology leader Daniel Remba. "The growth in our stores’s sales of 3-D print services has been in line with that trend, and continues to increase as more consumers become aware of our 3-D print offering," he told Fast Company.

Like other technologies that start elsewhere and then wander into the agriculture industry (heard anything about drones lately?), farmers and others in agriculture will rely on 3-D printing someday, maybe even much sooner than we all realize. When that day comes, who will be ready?

For a longer look at ways 3-D printing could reshape the ag industry, click here. And visit the AgWeb technology discussion boards to start your own conversation about 3-D printing or other on-farm technologies.
 

How Much Is That Wiretap in the Window?

Jul 16, 2014

After covering big data issues for the past year, I've seen a farmer concern that always bubbles to the top - worry over data privacy and security. That point was definitely driven home yesterday when I stumbled across an interesting story on wiretaps.

Two things in particular caught my attention. First, it’s interesting to see where the wiretaps are happening. According to the article, from www.MarketWatch.com, four states account for 50% of the government’s wiretapping activity: Nevada (the runaway leader), Colorado, California and New York. You can see where your own state makes the list here.

The second point is more relevant to agriculture. You see, a legitimate farmer concern is if they’re collecting data using a third party – and this is common among OEMs, precision ag companies and even seed companies – is how readily they would fork over your data to the U.S. government upon request, and at what cost.

A precedent of sorts has been set with law enforcement wiretapping. Here is what various companies charge for "wiretapping services."

• T-Mobile: $500 per target
• Sprint: $400 per "market area" and per "technology," plus a $10 per day fee not to exceed $2,000
• AT&T: $325 activation fee, plus $5 per day for data and $10 for audio
• Verizon: $50 administrative fee plus $700 per month per target

Data requests for voicemail or text messages cost extra. And all four telecom firms offer "tower dumps" that let police see the numbers of every user accessing a certain cell tower over a certain time at an hourly rate.

Hopefully, there will never come a day when the EPA or other governmental agency comes calling for farmer data. But if and when it happens, know that the adage is true – everything really does have a price.
 

VIDEO: Drones and Fireworks - a Dumb Combination

Jul 08, 2014

 We've written quite a bit about drones on AgWeb, all of which you can find at www.farmwithdrones.com.

A recent topic we've tackled is that of drone safety. Safety is not always the most popular drone topic in the agriculture industry. After all, who wants to talk safety when we're still being dazzled with the "wow factor" that drones bring?

Take this video, for example, which is going viral on YouTube. It showcases the fireworks potential of drones - literally.

There's no question, this video is a unique, beautiful look at the technology's capabilities.

It's also incredibly dumb.

As one of the YouTube commentors familiar with the Academy of Model Aeronautics and the FAA notes, "It's stunts like this that give us the one step forward, two steps back scenario."

Fortunately, most farmers are adement that the technology be used responsibly. As Illinois farmer Matt Boucher told us, "I always tell [my children] to respect the dangers of the equipment, or it will one day make you respect it. When flying an unmanned aerial system, everyone needs to maintain a proper distance and always stay away from moving props."

In other words, flying your new unmanned aerial vehicle through a fireworks display? Don't try this at home.

Will Your Driverless Tractor Kill You?

May 29, 2014

Let’s talk about a classic thought experiment in ethics from the 1960s called "the trolley problem."

Here’s the problem: a runaway trolley is barreling down the tracks, on a course to hit five people who are tied to the track. You can pull a lever to make the trolley switch tracks. However, doing so will put it on a course to kill two other people who are tied up on the second track. What do you do?

It’s an interesting moral dilemma that has been debated for the past 40 years. And now, thanks to Google, the trolley problem is getting a modern makeover. Let’s call it the "Google car problem."

Here’s the revised problem, courtesy of Popular Science magazine:

A front tire blows, and your autonomous SUV swerves. But rather than veering left, into the opposing lane of traffic, the robotic vehicle steers right. Brakes engage, the system tries to correct itself, but there's too much momentum. Like a cornball stunt in a bad action movie, you are over the cliff, in free fall.

Your robot, the one you paid good money for, has chosen to kill you.

It’s not just a question for future car owners. Most futurists predict autonomous tractors will be prevalent on tomorrow’s farming operations. How will OEMs respond to this potential situation? Should they install a manual override that allows the driver to take over the brakes, for instance?

In the coming years, as autonomous tractors move from speculative buzzword to having actual, practical uses on the farm, it will be interesting to see what other safety measures might be installed to avoid ethical quandaries like the trolley problem.
 

Want a Better Biofuel? Grab a Termite.

May 23, 2014

 Good-for-nothing termite? You may want to reconsider that accusation.

That’s because a team of international researchers has sequenced the genome of the Nevada dampwood termite, unlocking new ways to control the pesky pest – and potentially finding a game-changing new way to produce biofuels efficiently.

Currently, termites create an estimated $40 billion worth of damage and treatment costs annually. The termite genome might help identify new ways to control them, says Michael Scharf, Purdue professor of entomology who participated in the study.

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"While current pesticides are very effective products, the problem is that you’re injecting large volumes of them into the soil around the house," he says. "It would be nice to move to a greener technology, and that’s what the genome sequence could enable us to do."

Even more intriguing, the study is helping researchers understand how the more than 4,000 species of bacteria that thrive in their guts work together – something the biofuel industry would be highly interested in learning more about. Specifically, the researchers hope to identify enzymes that could lead to novel ways to produce cellulosic biofuels.

"The genome provides a well-defined roadmap that could help us find the right cocktail of enzymes to break wood down into simple sugars," Scharf says. "It takes a lot of the guesswork out."

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