5G application for cherry cultivation

© Fraunhofer IIS
Visualization of the »For5G« cooperation project

As part of the »For5G« project, an application-oriented5G application for fruit growing is being developed. Heart of the project, which is in Franconian Switzerland, is the creation of a »digital twin« of sweet cherry trees. The knowledge gained should be transferred to other fruit varieties in the future. The Fraunhofer Institute for Integrated Circuits IIS, the Friedrich-Alexander-Universität Erlangen-Nürnberg (FAU), the Weihenstephan-Triesdorf University of Applied Sciences (HWST) with the Institute of Horticulture as well as the district of Forchheim are working together to implement the project. The project is being funded with 1.4 million euros by the Federal Ministry of Transport and Digital Infrastructure.

In the course of »Smart Farming«, more and more innovative technologies are being used for sustainable agriculture. This also includes the digitalization and use of 5G applications, which represent a further step on the way to a profound transformation of traditional agriculture. The resulting opportunities for agricultural businesses are considerable: an increase in production, a reduction in costs and an optimized use of resources are to be expected.

Drones provide data for the »digital twin«

© StMWi/Quirin Leppert
Drone in use for data transmission

A »digital twin« is a digital representation of a physical object and combines all available information on the status and processes of the real counterpart. This allows one to monitor, to control and, to a certain extent, to predict the future development of the object under consideration. In the For5G project, the digital twin is based on images of cherry trees acquired by a drone and transferred to a computer infrastructure using 5G technology. Three-dimensional models of the trees are reconstructed from the image data and analyzed using AI-based algorithms regarding their phenotypic traits.  Since it is unfeasible to process the large amounts of data directly on the drone, the transmission technology is an essential component for the success of the project. To remedy the poor coverage of agricultural areas with 5G, the mobile 5G campus network of Fraunhofer IIS is used and can be flexibly transported to the respective location to ensure the connection to the drone.

Starting with sweet cherry trees

3D construction of a sweet cherry tree

For the development of the digital fruit tree twin, the district of Forchheim is providing the test facility of the Hiltpoltstein Fruit Information Center located in one of the largest sweet cherry growing areas in Germany. The sweet cherry was therefore selected as the project's first application. Until August 2024, data will be acquired regularly from several selected trees and used to develop and evaluate algorithms for the automated determination of phenotypic. During the project, the methodology should be transferred to other fruit varieties, such as apples and pears, and the potential applications should be evaluated in cooperation with external application partners.

Diverse exploitation of the project results

© StMWi/Quirin Leppert
Drone over the sweet cherry ochard

The combined expertise in 5G and phenotyping (Fraunhofer IIS), robotics and visualization (FAU) as well as the expertise in fruit growing (HWST/LK Forchheim) complement each other perfectly for a successful project implementation. The possible applications of the »digital twin« in the field of agriculture and fruit growing are extremely diverse. For example, the state of health can be monitored and any stress conditions such as drought stress, nutrient deficiency or pest infestation can be detected. In the future, this could serve fruit growers as an objective basis for the application of irrigation, fertilization, or pest control, thereby saving resources and minimizing unwanted effects on the environment. Fruit cultivation can thus be made more sustainable without compromising quality and yield. In addition, the digital twin can provide the information basis for a reliable harvest forecast and thus help fruit growers to plan the deployment of harvest workers and subsequent logistics more efficiently and increase their revenue. In addition to fruit growing, entire forest areas could also be analyzed in this way and thus contribute to the early detection of the risk of forest fires or the early localization of pests. Forestry is of great ecological and economic importance throughout Germany. Not only the federal state of Bavaria, with its almost 2.5 million hectares of forest, but also other federal states and even the EU could benefit enormously from the introduction of this new 5G and digital twin technology.

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