Jack Ma-led e-commerce giant Alibaba is helping Chinese farms improve crop yield and raise healthy pigs, by deploying artificial intelligence (AI) technologies such as visual recognition, voice recognition and real-time monitoring. The proprietary ET Agricultural Brain will monitor each hog’s daily activity, growth indicators, pregnancy and other health conditions, with the help of the above-mentioned technologies.
The company is using the same technologies (voice recognition and smart sensors), deployed for e-commerce operations, to monitor pigs and cut down costs such as those related to apple orchards.
The e-commerce giant, which also runs a tech business comprising of cloud computing, AI and machine learning, has already supplied AI solutions for smart-city management.
“Agriculture and animal husbandry industry is a strategic sector and matters to the lives of billions across China,” said Simon Hu, president of Alibaba Cloud. China happens to be the largest supplier and consumer of pork-based products.
The usage of newer technologies to solve issues in such sectors is a rising trend and a lot of companies that provide SaaS (software as a service) are also coming in. Salesforce, for example, has seen a rise in farming clients.
"Ag-tech goes from the seed in the ground all the way to the dinner table,” Tiffani Bova, innovation evangelist at Salesforce, was quoted as saying by a report in the Financial Times. She also said that smart tractors and several other equipment can also be used in ag-tech. For example, the smart tractor can send out an alert when part of the crop is found inappropriate.
Alibaba plans to use similar technologies to build real-time data that will help farmers take better decisions. For example, sensors placed on pigs can tell the ones that need more exercise to grow more meat and the ones that may need diet.
This could lead to the creation of an artificially intelligent agricultural brain, which could cut down the piglets’ death rate and raise crop yield. A similar brain meant for city, not agriculture, is operational in Kuala Lumpur in Malaysia, and it runs on Alibaba's Apsara cloud.
Tequ Group, a Sichuan-based farm, is already working with Alibaba to reach a goal of breeding 10 million pigs by 2020. “This is...a scale that no ordinary automation system could cope with, let alone a human system,” said Tequ Group chairman Degen Wang.
Bova was quoted as saying, “The biggest problem we have is there will be billions more people on the planet and how do we feed them in a sustainable way? It’s almost impossible without tech stepping in.”