How Advancements In 5G, Edge And AI Can Impact Food Production

This first article in a two-part series comes from a recent interview with Cristina Rodriguez, vice president of Intel Corporation’s Network and Edge Group and general manager of the Wireless Access Network Division. Here she shares her vision for a 5G-, edge- and AI-empowered world that has the potential to make significant positive impact on underserved communities.

Let’s start with your view of the world of technology. Where is it heading and what needs to happen?

Rodriguez: If I look into the future, I see data. Tons of data. Billions of things connected — sensors, devices, phones, computers, you name it. By 2025, more than half of the world’s data is going to be generated by these devices and sensors outside the data center.

So the world has to be prepared. We need an infrastructure that is prepared for many new use cases. And what’s making this possible is the ramp-up of 5G, the build-out of the edge and artificial intelligence. All of these come together to unleash all types of innovations.

What does the world look like with the combination of Edge, 5G, and AI?

Rodriguez: Think, for example, about some of the use cases that we want to address, like autonomous driving and remote surgery. These use cases are truly mission critical and require a very low latency, because the response in the network is critical.

So, when you have use cases that require millisecond and less-than-millisecond response, you can’t afford to send the data all the way to a data center and back. And that’s why you need to build the edge closer to where the data is generated, so you can process the data right there and make decisions right there. That’s where the edge comes in.

5G enters with faster speed, high bandwidth with ultra-reliability and low latency. And now you add analytics, artificial intelligence and machine learning. Analytics goes on the edge, where you can apply AI to that data to learn and make better decisions. You put all that together and now you have the ability to address requirements and support use cases that weren’t possible before.

Autonomous driving is an example that I always talk about, mostly because I don’t like to drive. I can’t wait to not have to drive. But take another example: agriculture, which has the potential to open new opportunities for underserved communities across the globe. How many things could you do in agriculture when you introduce technology at the edge, such as sensors for water, sensors for health of the crops, for energy saving? Think of the amount of waste we can reduce, but also the ability to have more food available for people.

The interesting thing is that the confluence of these three phenomena — 5G, edge and AI — are going to touch every single part of our lives. And every single part of society is going to change. The way we live, the way we work, the way we play. It’s going to completely touch our lives, and I think it’s going to do it for the better. It’s going to give us a much better society.

Describe how the edge works with agriculture.

Rodriguez: The number-one thing we need, in general, is connectivity. And we’re not talking about just here in the U.S., but in the entire world. It starts there. But it’s not just connectivity. It’s also important to consider how we build that connectivity. At Intel we bring cloud-native architecture into the network that allows us to lower the cost to make a stronger, bigger ecosystem that is going to be able to reach and help bridge digital divide, going to every corner of the world.

Now you can introduce humidity sensors, temperature sensors, all kinds of sensors that are going to help you, depending on what crop or what kind of agricultural product you have. This helps you determine what you need. More water? Less water? Fertilizer?

This connectivity and intelligence help you have better productivity and be more efficient, because you are able to farm how much you actually need. You can have applications and services that make sense for your specific crop. You can have drones delivering supplies or tools that you need. You can have applications running and managing your warehouse. There are all kinds of possibilities that, at the end, reduce your costs; give you better productivity, better efficiency; reduce energy consumption; become more sustainable and just have a better outcome for your business.

We actually did some very interesting work with the Snohomish County 5G food resiliency project. Intel was a founding member of the 5G Open Innovation Lab. A project with this lab, with support from Intel and other partners, resulted in the first application development field lab for the agricultural industry, and it was a fantastic outcome. That’s just the beginning; there is tremendous potential there. And that’s just one example.

So this is about precision farming for better production?

Rodriguez: Yes. You then are able to put more food on the table for the people who need it. Technology innovations will enable us to be much more efficient with the soil we have. Examples like I just gave enable food producers to reduce waste and at the same time find economic goodness. You have a good business on your hands. It’s the perfect combination where you are creating economic value — and that’s important — and at the same time, you are giving consumers what they need and you are not wasting. It’s perfect.

This is what gets me so excited and makes me believe in the mission. And I will say, the Intel mission is putting the technology that we have and the advancements that we have toward good. We’re solving the questions, “How do we have a better world, how do we have a better planet, how do we help and reach more people?” It’s very exciting.


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