Press release ILVO launches Test and Experiment Facility 'AgrifoodTEF' to accelerate applications of AI, robotics and data in agrifood
ILVO is launching an open Test and Experiment Facility (TEF) for companies to accelerate innovations with artificial intelligence, data and robotics in agrifood. Specifically, it offers infrastructure and services such as prototyping, image analysis, algorithm training and testing under realistic real-world conditions. The Flemish AgrifoodTEF will receive a total of 5 million euros from Europe (Horizon), the Flemish government (Department of Economy, Science and Innovation) and ILVO itself.
At the AgriTechDag '23 at ILVO in Merelbeke, visitors got a taste of the acceleration the TEF can realize. Three new prototypes for the Flemish agricultural market made their public debut in a chain of live demos.
First electrically powered autonomous tractor: Djust-E
ILVO and the mechanization company Verschueren converted an existing diesel model tractor from CNH into a fully electrically powered, self-driving model. A first for Flanders. They achieved this by, among other things, making a new chassis and a front linkage with interchangeable battery pack.
In the future, power sources such as fuel cells or a generator that runs on hydrogen or methanol could fit here. The drive remains electric. That makes the concept future proof for the Flemish market.
In order to operate without a driver – that is, to drive, brake, adjust the linkage and control implements autonomously - ILVO equipped the tractor with custom-written software, sensors and actuators. ILVO chose a compact tractor for several reasons. The relative lightweight tractor puts less pressure on the soil. At the same time, it symbolizes the future trend away from ever heavier machines with larger working widths to smaller machines that can work the field autonomously, many at a time, day and night.
We helped design, build and perform extensive testing on this prototype. A good example of the services the Agrifood TEF can offer to companies.
Smart planting machine remembers and shares where plants are located
During the demo, ILVO also demonstrated the prototype of a smart planting machine, developed as a collaboration with the company Lauwers. The special feature is that the planting machine is equipped with a sensor that detects during planting, the moment that each plant goes into the ground and stores their GPS coordinates (measured by the GPS antennas on the planting machine) in the cloud. That planting data enables a whole chain of innovative precision operations.
Robot uses planting data to weed very precisely
This became clear in the final part of the demo series. The CIMAT robot, equipped with an 'ordinary' hoeing machine and also with a prototype precision hoe developed by Vanhoucke in collaboration with ILVO, autonomously (and electrically) flawlessly weeded between the planted rows as well as between the cabbages in the rows. The robot based this manoeuvre on the GPS data from the smart planting machine.
Reinout Godaert (ILVO): "Capturing and sharing plant data makes precise, mechanical hoeing possible in a cost-efficient way. If the computer knows where the plants are, it can very easily create a task map that allows a hoeing machine or other implement to remove weeds in a site-specific manner. This is a quick win that makes precision agriculture more quickly usable in practice."
Indispensable step: data sharing
An essential link in this process is data sharing and integration from different sources. With DjustConnect, the agrifood sector has a data-sharing platform that can provide the necessary services and guarantees. Data ownership, privacy and security are neatly arranged. Learn more: www.djustconnect.be
Robot, meanwhile, captures data for faster machine learning (AI)
The CIMAT robot is an autonomously driven, multifunctional robotic platform that can be equipped with various standard tools as well as cameras for data capture. During mechanical weed control, the robot took pictures that are used to train an AI model to recognize weeds. Simon Cool (ILVO): "Thanks to the plant data, we can train the models in a semi-automatic and therefore faster way. The self-learning algorithms learn that everything in the images is weeds, except what is at the exact planting locations. This saves us a lot of time and expense."
Sustainability and digitalization go hand in hand
All innovations shown during the AgriTechDag are the result of services offered by ILVO in the new AgrifoodTEF.
Europe and Flanders are committed to the twin transition between sustainability and digitalization with the aim of improving the climate and the environment. In the agrifood sector as well, technologies that use data, robotics, drones and artificial intelligence show great potential. Moreover, Flanders has an interesting ecosystem of technology companies and research centers specialized in robotics and artificial intelligence. They just haven’t always found their way to the agrifood sector.
Jürgen Vangeyte (ILVO): "With funding from Europe and Flanders, we can actively support these companies to develop innovative agrifood solutions. This should not only lead to more sustainable food production but will also improve the competitiveness of our companies."
ILVO's AgrifoodTEF is a Flemish satellite within the European AgrifoodTEF project. More information: www.agrifoodtef.eu
The AgrifoodTEF in pictures
Each week in the new series Z-Agrifood on Kanaal Z, you get to see examples of services offered by ILVO's AgrifoodTEF. Three episodes are already available.
Nele Jacobs, ILVO communicatie
About Djust-E and the innovations shown: Simon Cool, ILVO research engineer
About AgrifoofTEF: Marijke Hunninck, ILVO-AgrifoodTEF manager
Jürgen Vangeyte, ILVO Scientific director for Agrifood Engineering
About DjustConnect: Stephanie Van Weyenberg, ILVO-DjustConnect