Emerging Technologies in Automation Conference looks toward the future of agriculture

Wednesday, September 11, 2019

The Windsor Star/Lindsay Charlton




From software that can assist with early pest detection, robotics, and artificial intelligence systems that understand produce — new automation technologies are developing to help the agricultural sector grow.

With agriculture being the region’s second-largest industry, the fourth annual Emerging Technologies in Automation Conference and Trade Show held in the Augustus Ballroom of Caesars Windsor Tuesday shined a light on automation in agriculture and the demand for technology in greenhouses.

Darren Ward, Vineland Research and Innovation Centre’s manager of business planning and commercialization, was one of the conference’s morning speakers. He spoke to the crowd about how robotics and automation in greenhouses can create a positive impact on the sector and the emerging technologies behind it including robotic harvesters and decision support systems.

“For example, if we want to be able to find apples on a tree we can use these learning techniques to be able to train AI systems to understand what is in an apple versus a leaf versus a stem,” Ward said.

While there are some types of agriculture that are already heavily automated, Ward focuses on horticulture and greenhouse growing which he said has more room to develop.

“We have to make really effective use of the technology that we have available to us,” Ward said. “The tools that we need to automate this industry are starting to become available now. Things like soft grippers and vision systems and artificial intelligence.”

He said by adding automation, productivity can be increased while doing more with less and producing better and potentially larger yields.

“There absolutely can be (a bigger yield) if you use an automated decision support system to help you make growing and harvesting decisions that may be taking in more factors and more things than a human typically could,” Ward said.

He said ideally the future would see the greenhouse growing environment become “a factory of the future.”

“It really is a factory and a production system right now,” Ward said. “You know possibly moving more toward that direction as the tools and technologies become available we’re going to be able to automate more complex tasks so probably start to look a lot more futuristic.”

Along with main stage speakers, the conference hosted a trade show and networking break for the 51 exhibitors and more than 350 registrants to mingle. There were also breakout sessions for more in-depth presentations.

At an automation in agriculture or “Agrimation” session, there was a presentation from Brian Hendel the president of Splice Digital, a local company which develops and designs digital solutions for businesses. He spoke about automation when it comes to software and how a system can assist with early pest detection, improved crop health, and increased crop yields.

“There are intelligence tools for growth so being able to determine when to plant, how to plant, diagnosing crop disease in terms of expert systems,” Hendel said. “Being able to punch in what you’re seeing in terms of leaf structure.”

AIS Technologies group’s vice president of sales and applications also discussed how robotics and technology-based solutions can assist the agricultural sector in terms of product sorting, labeling, and boxing products among other automated systems.

Other breakout sessions included artificial intelligence, mould making, smart manufacturing, digital simulation, actionable data, and resource planning. The conference also heard presentations on the ballroom’s main stage from speakers across the business, automation, and technology fields.

Shelley Fellows, chair of Automate Canada, a new industry association founded by the Canadian Association of Mold Makers announced a strategic partnership between Automate Canada and Michigan-based nonprofit manufacturing and technology business association Automation Alley at the conference.


The organizations signed a memorandum of understanding which designates the groups as strategic partners and marketing/promotional partners for “mutually beneficial economic development initiatives.”

“We’re one year in, we’ve got a healthy and growing membership and we’ve also taken a national organization and extended our hands across the river over into Michigan with signing our memorandum of understanding with Automation Alley,” Fellows said after making the announcement.