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Digital data 'rewriting business playbook'
By PAUL WELITZKIN in New York ( chinadaily.com.cn )
Updated: 2017-10-26

"No industry is untouched by disruption today. No one wants to be in the next industry to get Ubered or Airbnbed," said Lisa Spelman, vice-president and general manager at Intel Corp, as she opened the company's Shift 2017 event in New York on Tuesday.

Spelman was referring to Uber and Airbnb, which revolutionized the taxi and lodging industries, respectively.

Intel, best known for its processors that are basically the brains of computers for Apple, Lenovo and others, used the meeting to demonstrate how business will need to adjust to the digital era, which is driving transformation across all industries.

In his keynote address, Andrew McAfee, principal research scientist at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT), and an author and co-founder of MIT's Initiative on the Digital Economy, said major developments in data, algorithms, networks, cloud and digital hardware have unleashed a wave of innovation that is "rewriting the business playbook".

Not even agriculture, which has basically existed since man began roaming the Earth, is immune to this wave of change.

Kraig Schulz is the president and CEO of Autonomous Tractor Corp (ATC) in Minnesota. ATC has developed an after-market electric drive-train system that can be installed on a variety of agricultural vehicles such as tractors and sprayers, which enable more efficient field work with less labor.

Schulz said that most tractors now come with auto steer technology that has been around for more than 20 years.

"Farmers don't steer tractors any more. The challenge we help them solve is to make sure that what the tractor is doing in the field is what the farmer wants," he said.

For example, Schulz said his equipment helps sprayers spray the right amount of material at the right time in an area.

Bruce Tiffany is a farmer from Redwood Falls, Minnesota who farms 2,000 acres of corn and soybeans. He discussed the tillage work that has to be done after he harvests his corn and soybeans.

"It would be ideal if I had an autonomous tractor that was able to do this tillage work following me around the field as I harvest the corn. It would allow me to complete two tasks at one time," he said.

Another area where the autonomy would help is in analyzing data. Tiffany said farmers create a ton of data, and the "hard part is analyzing and making sound decisions with the data".

Schulz's company has about 12 employees and recently started selling its products and services this year. "We have had interest from Asia, Australia and Eastern Europe," he said. "We are a partnership-driven company, and now we have a partner in India."