Farming's future is virtual

Meet the virtual wizards in the University of Tasmania tent at Agfest

Virtual reality (VR) has seen multiple applications in today’s world -  entertainment, gaming, design and even exercise, but  Zongyuan Zhao, who is completing his PhD in ICT at the University of Tasmania says agriculture could hugely benefit from the augmented reality applications.

“We are hoping to find new ways to combine virtual reality and agriculture to help farmers make their lives better," he said. "We are currently working on software applications that can show information of their products in virtual reality.” 

Mr Zhao's supervisor, Winyu Chinthammit, is working on using virtual reality to visualise data obtained from sensors in salmon farms in Macquarie Harbour through the Sense-T project, a UTas-based initiative aiming to use data analytics and sensing technologies to solve real world challenges. 

Dr Chinthammit said that virtual reality is helpful for analyzing and processing data because it provides images that can be used with other technology to assist farmers to obtain information about their crops and livestock.

“We are working on a project that aims to use this technology to help farmers keep a check on the health of their cows, by connecting data obtained from their collars and mapping that with camera footage so they can see information superimposed over actual images of their livestock in virtual reality," he said. "Using VR technology makes this information accessible.”

James Riggall, managing director of educational organisation Bitlink, said virtual reality will become increasingly interconnected with the agricultural industry as we move into a digital future.

“It’s no good if all this information is just on a spreadsheet that no one can understand – that’s where tech like VR comes in handy," Mr Riggal said. "We know it’s valuable, we know there’s something good in there, but it’s hard to get knowledge from.” 

“A lot of what the technology can do is turn that data into a picture, or something that is interactive, a world you can step inside. All of a sudden the information and the capability of making decisions becomes a lot more real.”

He said Bitlink educates children and teachers about new and emerging technology through generating excitement about what they can create and do with it. 

"We have people come through who say 'Hey, that electronics thing, can I use it to automatically feed my chooks?' or 'monitor a pump?', or 'generate electricity?'. The answer is almost always 'yes', it’s just a question of learning how to do it and knowing what tools you need."

“What will be really explosive is not so much pure ICT but actually the technology when it’s applied. People who understand agriculture and technology, and can move back and forth between those worlds understand the problems in an industry and then use technology to help solve those problems.”

The Human Interface Technology Lab and Bitlink can both be found at Agfest in the University of Tasmania Tent, exhibit number 404 on Fourth Avenue. Several virtual reality headsets are on display for the public to demo.