Huawei demonstrates potential of drones, 5G, and IOT in sustainable farming

South Africa is ranked as the most food secure country in Africa, but with global agricultural supply being highly sensitive to shocks brought about by climate change, technology has an important role to play in ensuring the country’s food security.

Huawei earlier this month demonstrated how the convergence of several technologies, including drones, 5G, and the internet of things (IOT) could contribute to a more sustainable future for the agricultural sector.

At present, the sector is responsible for between 19 and 29% of greenhouse gas emissions. At the same time, a growing global population and changing dietary demands are driving up demands for food. It’s therefore critical that agriculture be as sustainable as possible.

At the Nussböckgut vineyard, a centuries-old estate in Upper Austria, Huawei and Dronetech (Austria’s largest drone provider) demonstrated what this future might look like. The two companies provided an update on a pioneering project that’s been running since last year and introduced how their 5G and IoT technologies can advance sustainability in agriculture.

In the latest phase of the project, Huawei will provide cloud computing services on top of 5G, which will serve as the foundation for real-time artificial intelligence (AI) analysis. Dronetech’s drones, equipped with high-resolution cameras and sensors will meanwhile survey the land and objects, to capture images and data that will be processed by AI, and provide actionable findings to the users instantly. The technology helps farmers detect small insects, monitor crop status and predict harvests, allowing them to optimise the use of water, chemicals and pesticides precisely, and with minimum waste.

The two companies are also looking at a shared-use approach for the technologies. Such an approach could be particularly helpful for a country like South Africa, where the farmers who could most benefit from such revolutionary technologies often can’t afford to adopt them. Agriculture remains critical to the South African economy, having achieved a growth rate of 8.3% in 2021, second only to mining.

“A more efficient and sustainable agricultural sector would not only benefit the South African economy, but also aid in job creation,” says Kian Chen, Deputy CEO, Huawei South Africa. “At Huawei, we remain committed to ensuring that technology creates more sustainable practices, while improving lives and livelihoods. Projects such as the one undertaken by our Austrian colleagues and Dronetech not only show that this is possible, but that it could be done anywhere around the world, including in South Africa.”

The model could also easily be applied to different sectors. In addition to farmers, municipalities, and corporates, individuals could rent out drones and their AI solutions for a wide range of applications, such as the inspection of solar panels, traffic management, or the detection of worn-out power lines.

The biggest challenge for introducing 5G-enabled drones to agriculture is network coverage. Currently, 5G networks are primarily designed for end-users who are mostly at ground level or indoors. High-quality coverage for drones, which routinely fly at heights of up to 50 meters above the ground, still needs to be established.

5G was developed for three key application areas: high bandwidth, low latency and to connect millions of devices. Using drones in combination with AI and 5G can address a number of resource-intensive operations such as maintenance or area monitoring.


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