Katie Dotterer stood before a room full of farmers from across the state and asked them to imagine they were cows.
She donned a pair of glasses and walked into her “barn” looking around at her livestock. She pointed to a cow and said, “you seem to be doing well today.” She turned to another and said, “hmm, your temperature seems to be high. There is a red flag over your head.”
Through the glasses she could see the vital information farmers need about their cows above their heads. Everything from how much they ate, how much milk they produced, their temperature, even how much they eliminated. The images are holograms.
Sound like something out of a science fiction movie? It’s not. It’s called augmented reality and it is here, in use and growing fast. Dotterer and others in the farming industry want to see it come to the farm.
Dan Dotterer, who grew up down the road from Katie’s family dairy farm, graduated from Penn State before moving to California to join the entertainment industry. When he was introduced to augmented reality more than four years ago, he immediately asked how this could help the farming industry. It could, he said, take what farmers are using now to the next level.
“This technology is not new,” he said during a seminar at Pennsylvania Farm Bureau’s annual meeting at Hershey Lodge. “It is here. Think of SnapChat, which has been around for 10 years. That is augmented reality, as is Pokemon Go, the app teens use to locate Pokemon characters in parks and towns.”
The technology allows the farmer to use an app that links all the livestock information to the glasses. The information appears in holographic form to provide whatever information is needed. It can be used to analyze soil, determine what crops have been planted and diagnose what’s wrong with farm equipment.
While the technology is available on smart phones, Dan Dotterer said, the glasses are as, or more, powerful than a laptop computer. The top-of-the-line glasses, that resemble a helmet, are even more powerful.
The beauty of the glasses, Katie Dotterer said, is they are hands free. “Dairy farmers often have dirty hands, so this technology is really cool,” she said.
During a short video, they showed the crowd how the technology can link farmers to others to share information. Dan used the example of a tractor breaking down. Instead of waiting for a technician, the farmer can link to him and the technician will see exactly what the farmer sees. Then the technician can walk the farmer through the repairs in real time.
“Animal health is going to be huge with this,” he said. “A vet visit is $500. If you have a sick sheep, it’s not worth the money to bring the vet out unfortunately. But with this, you can contact the vet and he can see and hear exactly what you are seeing and hearing. It will drastically cut the costs.”
The holograms are seen by everyone linked to the call. Screens can be moved to the right or left so new parts can be brought forward. The military has been using the technology, as have astronauts on the space station.
“Let’s lead with this instead of following,” Dan said. To that end, he has been working with Dr. Ranveer Chandra, managing director of research for industry and chief technical officer of Argi-Food at Microsoft, to see what the possibilities are.
He pointed to the 2019 romaine lettuce recall in California that cost grocers up to $500 million because they had to up and throw it all away. “Imagine if they could have pinpointed where the infected lettuce was and what the cause of the infection was,” he said.
“Recalls are increasing by about 10% a year. And we need to grow 70% more food by 2050 to feed the country,” he said. “That’s a lot of money.”
Several farmers asked about security with this technology. Jim Ladlee, Penn State Extension educator, said the block-chain technology that is in place now would make security tight. “If someone hacks into one part of your system and your system has eight parts, the other seven will alert you to the hack and prevent information from getting out from the other sites,” he said.
“No one is using this or even talking about it,” Dan said. “We want Pennsylvania to be the first. The technology is shifting, and it is happening fast, not only in this country, but the world, too.”