How XR Tools Are Transforming Food, Farming
Is the metaverse really the next big thing in the digital world? Will we really be wearing XR (extended reality) headsets to view the world as part of “enhanced” experiences? I think that reality is struggling to catch up with the hype. Facebook (Oculus), Microsoft (Hololens), Nvidia, Google and Apple are betting big on the metaverse, but what about the essential, though less glamorous, agri-food sector? Is XR ready for food suppliers, restaurants and retail?
Popularized in science fiction, metaverse (“meta” + “universe”) now describes the integration of digital technologies with the physical world: overlaying 3D virtual environments onto physical environments through devices. Remember the Pokemon Go craze of 2016, when people used smartphones to “catch” Pokemon around town? Second Life and Fortnite are metaverses in gaming environments. The metaverse can also integrate virtual, physical spaces and virtual economies. There are challenges, including the technological limitations of programing, hardware (headset) development and the costs of creating and running XR systems. In particular, so far people have not taken to wearing goggles, glasses or headsets for extended periods of time, and some even many find them nausea-inducing.
Most of what you hear about the metaverse is hype at this point, but here are five areas where XR tools are starting to make a real difference in agri-food.
XR enables farmers to augment what they see with their (human) eyes to visualize soil fertility, production quality, pests and diseases across an entire farm and use that data to select optimal crops and management practices. For indoor livestock facilities, AR (monitoring ventilation/air quality/temperature), IoT (animal sensors) and AI (camera vision) can be combined to allow farmers to monitor animal health and well-being in real time. Outdoors, AR applications can track and adjust digital boundaries for grazing.
Some metaverse-type initiatives in agri-food include:
• Sparkle (EU) demonstrates XR applications for agriculture, including monitoring farms, student and worker training, and tool/equipment assessment.
• CSIRO (Australia) adapts popular gaming platforms with high-tech sensor technologies and data analytics, creating wearable, hands-free technologies for real-time pond-side information on water quality and system monitoring for prawn farmers.
• Bareburger burger chains use Snapchat’s AR technology to show hyper-realistic food images. Hololamp is a hands-free, glasses-free AR projection machine that projects a menu’s food items (with images/video) on a table.
2. Origin Of Food/Ingredients
QR codes are increasingly popular. Enhanced by AR, your smartphone can yield information on nutrition, product composition and provenance. AR enhanced QR codes allow shoppers to “visit” source farms, learn cooking techniques and more. Examples include:
• ABP Food Group and ASDA in the U.K. used Aircards to build an interactive, immersive AR experience, demonstrating cooking a perfect steak as part of a larger consumer education campaign.
• FarmVR combines GeoAR, geolocation, 3D modeling, data visualization and virtual farm tours to create an interactive environment to inform consumers about where their food comes from.
• NexTech AR shows consumers how their seafood got from the ocean to their plates through an AR tour of the fishing boat.
• Patrón Tequila’s AR-enhanced app experience shows where Patrón comes from and how perfect tequila is made.
• Queppelin AR smart glasses integrate visual observations with virtual information in a hands-free platform for farmers to facilitate decision making and to give consumers “eye-witness” information about their food sources.
3. Staff Training
Immersive e-learning experiences transform staff training, bringing advanced precision methods and techniques to geographically dispersed farms. Examples include:
• Väderstad has an app that allows farmers to calibrate their machinery from their smartphone while making training and equipment familiarization easy and fast.
• Cornell University’s veterinary school uses VR to teach anatomy, allowing students to experience new techniques before trying them on live animals. The University of Liverpool uses interactive fiberglass animal models with VR to teach equine or cattle veterinarian students what to expect when operating.