In 2022, the Smart Agriculture Education and Research Center (tentative name) will be established at the university. This center will consolidate aging and dispersed experimental buildings and be equipped with research facilities for engineering and information science. Professor Noboru Noguchi, a leading researcher in smart agriculture, spoke about characteristics of the center and the university’s initiatives.
After completing the doctoral course at the Graduate School of Agriculture, Hokkaido University, Professor Noguchi worked as assistant professor and associate professor at the school, then assumed his current position in 2004. He developed the first agricultural robot in 1992, acquired automatic driving technology using GPS at the University of Illinois in the United States in 1998. After returning to Japan, succeeded in developing the world’s first full-scale agricultural robot with a Japanese agricultural machinery manufacturer.
One of the features of the new Smart Agriculture Education and Research Center (tentative name) will be its accessibility. The latest equipment will be available near Sapporo Station, and experimental farms will be right next to the center. That is a rare environment in the middle of a city. It will be a great attraction for students studying here and those who are involved in collaborative research, as well as being a convenient location for those who wish to come and see the research results.
Robotic agricultural machinery goes to the next stage after social implementation
Robotic agricultural machinery has already been put into practical use. Future challenges will be utilization in mesomountainous regions, realization of high-level work such as the pruning and harvesting of fruit trees, and remote monitoring. In our laboratory, we have been working with the NTT Group to make AI driven unmanned tractors smarter and to put remote monitoring with 5G into practical use. We are also working on the electrification of agricultural robots.
My thought in 30 years of research experience at Hokkaido University
I feel that we are very fortunate to be able to research cutting-edge agricultural technology at a university located in Hokkaido, a food base of Japan. Above all, people in the region is enthusiastic, understanding, and supportive about the research. It is also wonderful that farmers come to see our experiments and that we can hear their opinions directly. I think these are not only the advantages, but also rewards that Hokkaido University has in tackling smart agriculture. The research farms on campus made our achievement. So, along with the new center, I would like to keep the fundamental facilities like farms.
Smart agricultural technology contributes to the SDGs
Currently, we are involved in introducing smart agricultural technology as national project targeting rice cultivation in Iwamizawa area with the aim of reducing production costs by 50% and increasing farm income by 20%. The labor shortage is the same in Japan and overseas. As food shortages are becoming more serious due to climate change, global warming and population growth, now the world’s challenge is how to produce food efficiently with consideration for the environment. In that context, I believe that the innovative technology of smart agriculture will play a major role. We aim to realize a smart agri-city utilizing IoT and AI, and I believe this will contribute to globally supporting the lives of people.