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Agriculture IoT & M2M Iridium

May 17, 2023

Satellite Connectivity for Autonomous Agricultural Robots: Ensuring Resilient Communication in Remote Areas

The Agriculture industry is facing a number of significant challenges, not least, providing food security to a growing population. Though the Farm Bureau Family estimate that each U.S. farm feeds 166 people every year; it’s predicted that the world’s farmers will need to increase food production by 70%, by 2050.

Labor remains key to harvest and unfortunately, a key challenge. Labor costs account for more than 50% of total expenses for growers, and this figure is expected to rise by 10%-30% in the next 3-5 years. The labor shortage poses two significant challenges: firstly, regulatory costs have skyrocketed by 796% (between 2006 and 2017), reaching $977 per acre per year for specialty crops, with further increases since then. Secondly, the usage of H-2A temporary agricultural workers by growers has surged over 500% between 2005 and 2020. This places immense pressure on growers and regulatory approval processes to expedite permit decisions, as any delays could result in a shortage of harvest labor and potential crop loss.

Moreover, Agriculture is highly water dependent and the impacts of Climate Change are contributing to scarcity and shortages. In short, there are many trials facing the Agriculture sector. All of which necessitate an increase in Agricultural productivity.

Technology has long provided solutions and there has been an increase in interest and investment in AgriTech solutions. Predicted to reach $46,372 million by 2030, global AgriTech is a well established yet fast developing market.

What is AgriTech?

AgriTech describes the use of technology to produce more with less. This spans tractors to drones, milking machines to vertical farming and automation. These help farmers and agriculturalists increase efficiency from field monitoring, to the food supply chain itself.

AgriTech includes the Internet of Things (IoT) which has and continues to transform almost every sector – Agriculture is no exception. IoT refers to a network of connected devices that collect and share data with other devices and communications networks, allowing for real-time monitoring and control of various systems.

In Agriculture, IoT devices include sensors that measure soil moisture, temperature, and other environmental factors, as well as weather stations, drones, animal tracking collars, and other connected devices that can provide valuable data about crops and livestock. This data can then be used by farmers to make more informed decisions, for example, when to irrigate.

IoT in Agriculture

At Ground Control, we take pride in collaborating with numerous customers who are at the forefront of driving IoT advancements in Agriculture. One outstanding example is Synnefa, a company that equips 8,726 farmers across Kenya with integrated IoT devices and farming software.

By harnessing data from IoT devices in the field, along with farmer activity and trend analysis, Synnefa empowers farmers with valuable insights. These insights enable informed decision-making and facilitate automated tasks within Synnefa’s smart greenhouses, such as sensor-based fertilization. Together, these capabilities revolutionize farming practices, enhancing efficiency and productivity.

The results:
• Water usage down 50%
• Fertiliser application down 41%
• Average 30% increase in production yields vs before IoT device implementation.


What are Autonomous Agricultural Robots?

Autonomous Agricultural Robots (AARs) are advanced machines designed to perform agricultural tasks without the need for human intervention – autonomously. These robots are equipped with advanced sensors, cameras, and other technologies, allowing them to navigate fields and carry out specific tasks like planting and livestock management.

With their ability to collect and exchange data, AARs operate as part of the Internet of Things (IoT), enabling seamless communication with other IoT devices such as irrigation systems. This connectivity empowers farmers to create integrated and efficient farm management systems, enhancing productivity and sustainability.

Common applications of Agricultural robots

1. Crop Harvesting

Utilizing advanced detection and classification algorithms, robots can identify ripe crops based on factors like color and characteristics. With GPS systems, these robots can work alongside human pickers, enhancing speed and accuracy to improve yield size, minimize waste, and reduce labor dependence.


2. Drones

Drones play a crucial role in automating tasks and optimizing crop yields in various ways, including:

Crop monitoring: Equipped with sensors or cameras, drones collect data on crop growth, health, and water stress by surveying fields. This information enables farmers to create detailed maps and identify areas requiring attention, facilitating precise irrigation and fertilizer application.
Crop spraying: Fitted with spray nozzles, drones apply pesticides and chemicals with exceptional precision, reducing the quantity required and minimizing environmental impact.
Livestock monitoring: Drone cameras provide real-time information on animal health and behavior, assisting in tracking grazing patterns and identifying stressed or sick animals.

3. Weed control

Autonomous robots offer a more precise, efficient, and environmentally friendly approach to weed control compared to traditional methods. Just three common examples:
Automated mechanical weeding: Robots equipped with infrared sensors or cameras can navigate fields autonomously, detecting weeds and using rotary cutters to remove them at ground level.
Chemical spraying: Autonomous robots can identify weeds through computer vision and apply herbicides only to the affected areas, reducing chemical usage and environmental impact.
Thermal weeding: Similar to the previous methods, autonomous robots can target weeds using computer vision and apply heat to eliminate them, eliminating the need for chemical intervention all together.

4. Autonomous tractors

Autonomous tractors are at the forefront of revolutionizing farming practices across the United States. These self-driving vehicles are equipped with advanced sensors, cutting-edge GPS technology, and high-resolution cameras, meaning they’re able to perform tasks like plowing, tilling, and crop spraying with unprecedented accuracy.

They can also act as data collection hubs. Integrated sensors capture vital information on soil health, nutrient levels, moisture content, and even weather conditions. This real-time data provides farmers with valuable insights into the overall well-being of their crops, allowing for proactive decision-making. By monitoring crop growth patterns and soil conditions, farmers can implement targeted interventions, adjust irrigation schedules, and fine-tune fertilization strategies for optimal results.

In addition, as autonomous tractors can operate around the clock without fatigue, they enable Ag operators to mitigate worker exposure to harsh conditions. Meaning farmers can allocate human resources to more complex tasks, further maximizing productivity.


5. Crop Planting

Agricultural robots track row positions and adjust their trajectory during planting to ensure precise spacing between seedlings. GPS-based systems enable farmers to program the robots with optimal planting depth based on field locations, maximizing the crops’ chances of survival.

The opportunities associated with integrating autonomous agricultural robots into precision agriculture systems are remarkable. These robots offer numerous benefits, including enhanced efficiency, increased labor productivity, reduced environmental impact, and improved crop yields. However, the true value of this promise depends on a number of factors, including the specific use case, the technology involved, and the overall economic and regulatory landscape.

Just one use case, Augean Robotics Inc. developed a collaborative robot called Burro. Burro was created to assist grape harvest crews moving picked grapes from the field to the truck. In a recent field trial, a crew member was tasked with optimizing the use of the Burro, which resulted in a 15% to 30% increase in overall crew efficiency. The Burro manager was paid the same as if they were performing picking operations – a model which is becoming increasingly popular with Ag operators utilizing these machines – and growers were able to improve yields and reduce waste.

While still in their early stages, autonomous tractors and drones have already become increasingly popular. The global market for autonomous farm equipment was valued at $62.89 billion, with projections indicating it will reach $250.6 million by 2028.

Like any emerging technology, there are challenges to address. Connectivity stands out as a critical factor. As Rohan Rainbow of Grain Producers Australia highlights, “more than half the farmers in Australia have no access to cellular phone connectivity… That’s actually quite a challenge if you want to service your machine or just run diagnostics on whether this machine is performing correctly and providing that information back to the operator.”

Poor or no connectivity can be a major issue when AARs encounter obstacles. Without a reliable connection to receive commands, machines that have encountered an obstacle remain stationary until the obstacle is removed or they are manually reset. Even in areas considered to have good cellular connectivity coverage, users of autonomous agricultural robots found themselves needing to intervene approximately once every 10 hours to reset machines.

As experts in connectivity, we emphasize the pivotal role of satellite connectivity in overcoming these challenges. It’s crucial to leverage resilient communications to unlock the true value of autonomous agricultural applications. Only satellite connectivity offers ubiquitous coverage, ensuring seamless operations and maximizing the potential of these groundbreaking technologies.

Overcoming connectivity challenges with the RockREMOTE Rugged

Introducing the RockREMOTE Rugged: Built to withstand demanding outdoor conditions, this solution is designed for fixed or mobile environments worldwide. With its durable and waterproof form factor, it ensures seamless connectivity for assets and machines through Iridium satellite or LTE networks.

Equipped with an omni-directional antenna, the RockREMOTE Rugged establishes secure connections for remote IoT assets using IP or message-based protocols. Its robust Linux-based operating system supports containerised hosting for edge-computing applications.

Having already engaged with various manufacturers, we are confident that the RockREMOTE Rugged is an excellent communication system for Agricultural manufacturers or OEMs seeking a dependable and resilient communication solution.


With our first batch of units already in production, now is the perfect time for manufacturers to test beta units and see how integration could work in practice. We’re committed to making integration as simple as possible, so where appropriate, we can also ensure your talking to individuals within the production team regarding potential customizations.

Are you an AgTech Manufacturer Seeking a Communication Solution?

With extensive expertise in satellite connectivity spanning 20 years, Ground Control proudly collaborates with a diverse range of OEMs and manufacturers.

Discover more about our partner program and explore how satellite connectivity can transform your machines. Fill in the form now, and our expert team will reach out to you.