Few people know this, but the farming industry is in a state of transition. Tougher demands are getting placed on farmers to produce more food and drink for human consumption. As the world’s population grows, there is a greater emphasis on the resources that farms supply.
Technology is lending a helping hand to today’s tech-savvy farmers in more ways than one. Even if a farmer is lucky enough to have the money to hire an army of people, there will still be a need to improve efficiency and production.
The Consumer Electronics Show in Nevada is home to new product developments by a plethora of companies. But did you know that many of today’s technology first shown in events like that get used by the farming industry? Here are a few examples to show you just how tech-centric today’s farmers are:
If you’ve got visions of the robots shown in cartoon programs like The Jetsons, you are on the right tracks! Believe it or not, the use of robotics in the farming industry is growing in popularity.
Dairy farmers have used robotic milking machines for cows since the early 1990s. Technology has come a long way since then. Today’s “milking parlours” allow cows to decide when they wish to be milked and how. They also monitor the quality of the milk produced so that farmers can keep a closer eye on cows that may have problems.
Such systems also allow farmers to maintain a look on how cows are feeding. Sometimes cows may not produce enough milk because they aren’t feeding well. Technology helps dairy producers to gain a valuable insight into milk production at their farms.
There are several other reasons why robots are preferred on dairy farms across the globe. First, there’s the efficiency aspect. If cows are calmer, they produce better quality of milk. Many farmers new to robotic “milkers” note that their yield increases by at least 10% in just four months.
Robots can also help in other ways too. “Feed pushers” ensure that all cows enjoy eating high-quality food at a location to suit them. Farmers can even buy robot cleaners to clean the shed where the milking parlour is set up! Such measures ensure that farmers can dedicate their time to other areas.
The use of pilotless aircraft, drones, is increasing each day. Some people fly drones for leisure purposes. While others may do so for more sinister reasons, such as espionage! But drones play an important part in the management of farms in the 21st century.
When you operate a farm, you are dealing with a significant size of land. It is seldom easy to manage such land by yourself or with one or two other people. As a farmer, part of your job is to make sure that your livestock are safe and secure from natural predators like foxes. And enterprising criminals that want to steal your farm animals and sell them on the black market.
It’s a full-time job in itself walking or driving on your land. Especially if you have to deal with incidents such as livestock going astray! Technology’s contribution to the management of farms are drones, believe it or not.
These pilotless aircraft can get operated from a fair distance, such as in the farmer’s home. Farmers can use drones to survey the land for various reasons like finding missing sheep or checking for damage to fences.
Drones can get fitted with high-definition cameras, and those cameras can get accessed wirelessly. That means when the drones get operated, real-time video footage can get seen from the system running them.
Many farmers use drones that are controlled by mobile devices like smartphones and tablets. That means they can control where they get flown while they are working in and around the farm.
Let me give you a personal, real-life example. On a recent visit to a friend’s farm, he showed me the tractor that he bought through the http://farm.autotrader.co.uk website. He had a special mount fitted in the cab for his iPad so that he can control his drone when he’s working out on the fields.
The drone allows him to check for any areas that require his attention so that he can be sure all of his fields are ploughed correctly.
On today’s modern cars, many of them have telematics boxes for insurance purposes. In a nutshell, they are GPS devices that keep track of where cars go, at what times and how fast they drive.
Telematics also have a place in today’s modern farm. Of course, farmers don’t spend their days racing cars around their fields. At least, not the ones that I know! The thing about telematics is that they are useful for keeping tabs on farm animals.
Sheep, cows, in fact, any farm animals you care to name. They can get fitted with small GPS devices so that you know where they all are at any one time. As you can appreciate, some farmers have thousands of animals.
The growing threat of livestock theft is a common problem for today’s modern farmers. They can invest in an array of security measures. But the sad truth is that they don’t always prevent theft. With telematics, farmers can learn if there are any thefts imminent. That’s because they have to power to check the location of their livestock at any time.
If their animals are somewhere on fields they seldom visit, it’s a good indicator that something is amiss.
Last, but not least, farmers can also fit monitoring devices to their livestock. These micro-sized gadgets can get farmers an insight into the health of their animals. Examples include pedometers to measure how often animals walk, run or graze each day.
Rumination microphones are also a good indicator of how often cows spend cudding. If there are any significant rises or dips, farmers can check the animal’s health and act upon any problems sooner rather than later.
Nuclear Power and Other Power Sources: How Do They Stack Up?
Most everyone dreads the idea of nuclear war because of the abject devastation it would inflict on planet Earth. Yet few connect the dots between nuclear weapons and nuclear power — the same energy that makes atomic bombs and nuclear missiles so threatening is also harnessed to power electrical grids and other forms of infrastructure. When properly contained, nuclear power is the cleanest and most abundant energy source available. With all the concern over climate change and environmental degradation, it begs a huge question: why is the United States of America not generating more — much more — nuclear energy?
Capital Investment vs. Production Costs
Looking at it from one angle, a larger nuclear energy capacity is a no-brainer. Making electricity from nuclear sources is cheaper than using coal, gas or petroleum, i.e. fossil fuels. On average, using 2011 cash value, electricity cost 21.56, 3.23 and 4.51 cents per kilowatt-hour from petroleum, coal and natural gas, respectively. Nuclear power came in at 2.10 cents per kW according to data received by the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC). Yet these simple ongoing production costs fail to tell the full story.
To up the power generating capacity of nuclear sources, additional plants are necessary. Some argue that the savings in electricity production means the nuclear utilities pay for themselves. What, though, are they paying for…and how long until the payoff? Engineering and constructing a nuclear power plant is very expensive. In fact, 74 percent of the cost of nuclear-sourced electricity is in the capital costs of creating the physical facility and technology for that purpose. Some estimates range drom six-billion to nine-billion dollars. Others estimate over $5,300 per kW before it begins paying for itself…in 20 to 30 years. These figures make the prospect cost-prohibitive to many decision makers in government and business.
Plentiful Energy at Low Costs without Nuclear Power
Were we living back during the oil shocks and embargoes of the 1970s, the urgency factor would be much higher concerning nuclear power in the US. The abundance of discoveries and advancement of technology have made fossil fuels more available at modest prices. Coal and petroleum are each low compared to their peaks. With the advent of hydraulic fracturing, or “fracking,” natural gas is ever more accessible and affordable. Though people may worry about the environmental effects of burning these substances, they are likely to continue usage to maintain a decent househild cash flow.
Lack of Knowledge
The absence of urgency mentioned above relates to a third factor about why Americans are not expanding their nuclear production capacity. Generations have passed that are not well-informed about the potential and reality of nuclear power. A dangerous accident at Pennsylvania’s Three-Mile Island facility in the 1970s scared public officials and policy makers into backing off of a pro-nuclear agenda. The improvements and replication found in today’s safety protocols have been ineffective in re-booting a national conversation. Granted, the United States operates 97 nuclear reactors, more than any other country. Yet only four more are under design and/or construction compared to 20 for China.
Furthermore, France relies on nuclear for three-quarters of its electricity; several eastern European nations, half; South Korea, in excess of 30 percent; while the U.S. can claim around 20 percent. Clearly, the public knowledge regarding how clean and abundant atomic energy is meager; awareness of past accidents — including the Fukushima Daiichi and Chernobyl meltdowns of recent decades were, by contrast, reported widely by media outlets.
Advocates of nuclear power have work to do to bring Americans on board. Otherwise, dirtier, cheaper sources will continue to reign.
Francisco Reynés: “We have to consider gas as the energy source with the most potential in the future”
Francisco Reynés, executive chairman of Naturgy (formerly Gas Natural Fenosa), has talked about the role of gas in the world as the energy source with the greatest potential in the future, at the 6TH IEF-IGU Ministerial Gas Forum celebrated in Barcelona, Spain.
Francisco Reynés has explained that the world “needs to talk about the different uses of natural gas and the gas technologies and innovations towards a sustainable energy future. We have to address the role of gas in the world as a future energy source, not only as a transition source of energy”.
“The uses of gas are, as we all know, well beyond those of power generation. Gas provides sources for non-energy uses, such as petrochemicals or fertilizers, which have no clear substitute”, he added.
About this possibility, Francisco Reynés has explained that “all of this will benefit and service the economic growth and development of the countries and economies around the globe. It is, indeed, a joint effort which we must all face with the utmost priority and the maximum care”.
Reynés has also insisted on the cooperation between governments, producers and even consumers to strengthen the security of gas supply on international markets. “The challenge for the future is how energy systems will evolve to meet greenhouse gas emission goals, and more stringent fuel quality standards while at the same time they respond to growing demand for affordable access to reliable energy services”, he concluded.
The 6th IEF-IGU Ministerial Gas Forum aims to sharpen a collective focus on energy policies, market trends, and technology options that enable the gas industry to deliver inclusive growth and successful transformations for a secure, inclusive and sustainable energy future. Energy and climate policies, gas technologies and innovations as well as market fundamentals are ever more co-dependent but also vary across geographies.
You can’t fight nature, but you can be ready for whatever she throws at you
The human race has got used to being in control of its surroundings, and yet we will never be able to truly prevent some of the most devastating catastrophes that our planet can throw our way. Yet we still strive to protect all the things we have built and worked hard for, and technology is helping us to do that on a day to day basis.
Tsunamis are a reality and we need to be prepared for them
Despite all the advances in our technology, we have not yet found ourselves able to avert the most fatal of natural disasters. The fact remains that our planet is far larger than we can possibly control and despite being considerably safer than several million years ago in the early days of the Earth’s life, it still has the capacity to be volatile and terrifying.
Some of the most devastating tsunamis in recent history have taken place in the last 60 years, with catastrophic loss of life and billions needed in humanitarian aid and reconstruction. The effects will last a lifetime for many areas as they try to recover and rebuild.
It is impossible to forget the Tohoku earthquake and subsequent tsunami in 2011. The consequences were absolutely devastating.
Striking Japan on the 11th March the earthquake reached an eye watering 9.0 magnitude, and generated a 33 feet high wall of water travelling as far as 6 miles inland. Some reports even record waves as high as 133 feet, with a 97-foot wave smashing into the city of Ofunato.
Around 25,000 people were killed or reported missing, and 125,000 buildings damaged or destroyed. But more worryingly the Fukushima I Nuclear Power Plant was also struck causing a nuclear meltdown. The disaster is recorded at the highest level of International Nuclear Event Scale. The impact of this event is still being fully understood, and radiation from the plant has been detected as much as 200 miles away, with many areas remaining uninhabitable and will be for many years to come.
The loss of human life can be staggering due to a tsunami that hits with no warning. Take for example the Boxing Day Tsunami of 2004 in the Indian Ocean. An unbelievable death toll of 230,000 was recorded across 14 countries including Indonesia, Sri Lanka, India and Thailand. The earthquake under the ocean was recorded at 9.3 magnitude, generating waves up to 93 feet high. Some waves hit land within 15 minutes, but some took as much as 7 hours.
Even those with time to evacuate were hard hit, mostly due to the complete lack of a tsunami warning system which meant very densely populated coastal areas being taken by surprise.
Early warnings save lives
By comparison, although damage to buildings and general destruction was widespread, the 2009 Samoa earthquake and tsunami saw a considerable lower death toll.
With an earthquake of 8.1 magnitude and waves reaching 45 feet high, that travelled up to a mile inland there were 189 casualties recorded. The loss of life would have been far higher if it wasn’t for the Pacific Tsunami Warning Centre which gave people time to evacuate and reach higher ground.
There are several ways in which a tsunami can be detected. From recognition of symptoms, an earthquake can be quite hard to miss, to technological warnings from tsunami detection and forecasting. These are based on a combination of data collected by environmental sensors and using that data for tsunami modelling.
For example monitoring seismic activity and the magnitude of an earthquake can give an excellent warning of tsunami potential. However, it cannot be taken in isolation. For larger earthquakes it is easier to underestimate the size of the quake, and therefore miscalculate the tsunami potential.
Rapid sea level monitoring will give the best warning
When managing the data collected, those carrying out the analysis have a hard decision. Declare a tsunami imminent, and risk a costly unnecessary evacuation, or make the decision to issue the warning to the public so that emergency plans can be activated.
They also need to be able to indicate clearly from the modelling how large the waves will be and when they will strike. Importantly they need to know when the danger will be over so that people can return safely to the evacuated areas.
The issue is that tsunami detection and forecasting requires near-real-time observations from both coastal sea level instruments and open-ocean sensors. Fundamental gaps in coverage still exist, especially in open-water. This puts at risk the ability to give warning, and the ability to learn more about the behaviour of tsunamis after the fact which will further refine the accuracy of the modelling in the future. More coverage is needed, and the durability of the equipment a key factor.
New technology paramount for the detection of tsunamis
The installation of new tsunami buoys is without doubt the next step for addressing the coverage issue, and these buoys need to be smart with built in Tsunami Early Detection and Warning System. It needs to be able to detect an event and send that information to be centrally analysed.
Pressure sensors deployed in a water depth up to 7,000 meters can detect height variations on the water surface, and in order to resist the effect of the harsh elements and environments must be of the highest quality. It is now possible to obtain floats manufactured with a closed-cell polyethylene foam sheet that prevents water absorption.
In terms of positioning and communication, all can be managed through GPS, and redundancy in place for communications via satellite, with a reaction time of less than one minute and powered by a double solar power system. These buoys are so durable they can provide much better confidence that there will be no failure of service in remote locations.
They are able to transmit a NOAA Tsunami Warning System compatible message and monitor the sea level column changes to within 1mm. This kind of monitoring will be paramount for buying enough time for evacuation and prevent the loss of life seen previously.
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