Here at Belatrix, we believe there are three key technologies that are currently transforming the digital agriculture landscape: the Internet of Things (IoT), blockchain, and data storage platforms. However, whilst IoT technology itself is rapidly advancing in the agricultural sector, connectivity remains a major impediment to its widespread adoption on farms. This is due to the inherent nature of geographically widespread networks and limited connectivity in rural areas. Whilst there are other issues that need attention such as data storage and security, edge computing and machine learning, connectivity remains the number one issue that service providers need to address before the IoT farm can become a reality.
New network technologies will help the IoT farm become a reality
Connectivity is a major hurdle that is currently preventing growers from adopting IoT technologies, however, over the past year, there have been several developments that are likely to help solve this issue. In July last year for example, Bluetooth SIG announced a major update to the Bluetooth wireless standard. This update means that Bluetooth devices can now be used for mesh networks. Due to its low power requirements, Bluetooth connectivity can be ideal for equipment that is placed in a field for the duration of a season. In addition, the fact that growers and advisers generally like to have data from all the different areas of a field means that the layout of crop sensors will allow for the formation of a Bluetooth mesh that allows data to be transmitted even from very remote fields.
Another, more recent, announcement came from an Australian company called Myriota who successfully completed a $15M funding round from well-known global investors including Boeing Horizon X and Singtel Innov8. Myriota makes use of low-power micro-transmitters to connect with a constellation of nanosatellites that allows them to send small bits of data from remote sensors to a cloud-based processing platform. For growers to create their own database of “big data”, they need to be able to somehow get all their “small data” to a cloud-based platform, so it can be combined and processed for analysis. While traditional connectivity options have not proven to be viable in this situation, Myriota is aiming to give growers another means of connecting their sensors, even in very remote situations, such as water-level sensors on remote tanks and troughs, or engine performance sensors on remote water pumps and other electronic equipment.
As can be seen in the two examples mentioned above, different providers are thinking of and developing solutions to overcome the issue of IoT connectivity. SIG Bluetooth and Myriota are by no means the only companies working on this challenge. However, with various solutions in development, it becomes more critical again for technology service providers to analyse which solution might work best in different situations. The number of IoT technologies continues to increase, as do dedicated solutions for farmers and growers. For example, startups such as The Yield, which won the Agfunder 2018 global innovation award, uses IoT sensors to record farm conditions. It then provides the data and analytics to enable growers to determine the best time to harvest. However, such valuable tools and applications can only be effective if organizations can also overcome the connectivity challenge.
What will shape the future of the IoT farm?
Whilst the initial adoption of IoT sensors and other devices on farms has already started, it is by no means widespread yet, with connectivity one of the main impediments. What does it mean then for growers, technical service providers and the industry, when this impediment is overcome? It means the IoT solutions which are already a reality in other sectors, will rapidly transform agricultural operations. It means lowering costs, and increased productivity. It means new opportunities for startups and entrepreneurs to develop new products and services for the industry. In 2018, we’re just at the start of seeing the potential of the connected IoT farm – there is no stopping the IoT farm, and we are excited to assist our clients and partners in becoming leaders in the field of the future.
We´ll also be discussing the potential of IOT in our upcoming digital agriculture webinar. Register here.