The company is a startup established by industrial giant Bosch, and has a variety of solutions for the burgeoning precision agriculture market.
- BoniRob (main picture) – a robot which can roam the fields and perform a wide variety of tasks normally done by a human farmer;
- Deepfield Connect – a monitoring system for more perishable plants such as asparagus and strawberry; and
- Automated Field Testing – which uses something the company calls “4D scan” to collect and analyse data on large fields of crops.
The company is also developing a robotic, automated and internet of things-connected systems for people who just use their own household gardens as mini-farms, perhaps mostly for their own requirements.
For these “private users”, one of the technologies Deepfield is developing is a weight scale for beehives. Bee-keeping is a huge cottage industry in Germany, where the company is based, and it’s also a massive market worldwide.
Robotic honey farming
There’s not many statistics immediately available about how many beehives are sold each year around the world, or anything about that particular market.
But, as most readers with an interest in these things may be able to guess, there is plenty of anecdotal evidence that suggests it’s a significant market.
One way to perhaps indirectly guess at the amount of beekeeping infrastructure that is sold or traded is to look at the dollar value of natural honey exports.
According to WorldsTopExports.com, which uses a variety of sources for the data, the top 15 countries exported a total of more than $1.7 billion worth of natural honey in 2016.
The top 15 honey-exporting countries by dollar value are:
|Country||Export value $||% of total exports|
|China||$276.6 million||12.3 per cent|
|New Zealand||$206.7 million||9.2 per cent|
|Argentina||$168.9 million||7.5 per cent|
|Germany||$144.9 million||6.5 per cent|
|Sierra Leone||$142.4 million||6.4 per cent|
|Spain||$109 million||4.9 per cent|
|Ukraine||$108.2 million||4.8 per cent|
|Mexico||$93.7 million||4.2 per cent|
|Brazil||$92 million||4.1 per cent|
|Vietnam||$75.9 million||3.4 per cent|
|Hungary||$74.2 million||3.3 per cent|
|Belgium||$72.4 million||3.2 per cent|
|India||$70.8 million||3.2 per cent|
|Canada||$54.4 million||2.4 per cent|
|Romania||$41.5 million||1.9 per cent|
In total, the above 15 countries accounted for more than 77 per cent of global natural honey exports, according to WorldsTopExports.com.
The average number of beehives per hectare varies, but then, as this photo-story in The Guardian about beekeeping in China shows, beehives can often be positioned vertically – on, say, the side of a mountain.
A new variety of farmer
In an exclusive interview with Robotics and Automation News, Dr Christian Lasarczyk, project manager of IoT and senior executive at Deepfield Robotics, says the market is diverse.
“The whole market of what is called Agriculture 4.0 or precision agriculture – or whatever the term – is quite broad,” says Lasarczyk.
“So you have large cultures like maize, or corn, with wide, huge fields of many, many hectares, but with low value per hectare.
“Then you have some special cultures, like asparagus, strawberries and things like that, with smaller fields, but with high value with the crop.
“And then you have fields where you address the end customers more, private users, like what we have presented with the beekeeping system.
“All these markets are of different sizes, different focus, and different ways to address it. This is what we are currently trying to figure out.
“For now, we focus on fields where micro-climate or individual data is relevant – for instance, where we can put tents over fields.
“You cannot do that with a 10- or 20-hectare maize field because having a sensor in one corner doesn’t tell you anything about the other side of the field or area.
“But with a one- or two-hectare asparagus field, you can do so, and you can get quite valuable insights into this field.
“So Deepfield solutions scale with the number of fields and the field sizes.
“For instance, in Germany, there are 2,000 asparagus farmers – not that big a market, but it’s a good market to start and it’s a good market to get insight about the end customers, which is what we want to learn.
“Strawberries is the next market, there are more hectares of different varieties, and there’s farmers who grow blueberries and other fruit, and we also want to learn from these customers – from a technological perspective.
“Deepfield solutions are able to cope with many more problems that just those within berries or asparagus, but this is something we have to evaluate in our startup process.”
Lasarczyk says that Deepfield wants to find out how much more value its solutions can provide, and what the farmers require.
A simple system – or anyone with a smartphone – could provide information about basic things such as temperature or humidity, but Deepfield – as its name implies – is looking for greater depth in data.
“We want to be quite near to the customers’ problems,” he says, “and be able to give them appropriate advice.”