Agriculture

Precision Forestry: Drones Optimize Tree Planting

Create: 09/08/2017 - 15:56

Photo: DroneSeed

 

Trees play a vital role in the carbon cycle of the earth, as they embody some of the world’s largest carbon sinks. According to studies from Yale, each year we have a net loss of 6 billion trees. This reduction and ongoing demolition of trees has drastically and negatively altered many of the earth’s ecosystems. Concurrently, not enough workers are available to replant and maintain upkeep in the forestry industry. Hand planting trees is a slow—and expensive—process.

Drones and data analytics are sprouting up as cost-effective and smart solutions for planting new trees. Drones can sow tree seeds where no man or woman can even reach, opening up areas that were previously deemed unviable for new growth. In addition, these specialty drones are fast and furious when it comes to dropping seed pods and can plant 100,000 trees per day.

Swarms for Spraying and Planting

DroneSeed and technology developed by BioCarbon Engineering are two of the leading solutions paving the way for sustainable responses to this global issue of reforestation. DroneSeed began as a small startup company based in Seattle, WA. Now it’s becoming one of the biggest industry leaders, as it has developed an IoT-based solution that has drastically decreased associated financial costs and labor needed to maintain a healthy forest ecosystem.

Smart Ag DroneSeed

Photo: DroneSeed

According to DroneSeed, the company’s niche is precision forestry, also known as forestry analytics, that it defines as:

  • Forestland analysis
  • Planting
  • Care by drone.

DroneSeed aims to repair and assist the forest industry as sustainably and efficiently as possible. Their drones are comprised of sensors that have the capability to construct 3D maps of highly logged regions. With the assistance of these sensors, the drones can construct intricately detailed maps, which in turn helps approximate the location of “microsites.” Microsites signify locations where future trees have the highest survival chance.

The company starts the process by using drone swarms as spraying units for invasive species, which is the first step in reforestation. The drones used for spraying can later be equipped with a module that uses compressed air to fire tree seeds targeted at specific microsites.

Industrial-Scale Reforestation

Biocarbon Engineering based in Oxford, UK, is another leader in the sustainable forestry industry. According to CEO Lauren Fletcher, the company’s drones are very efficient, in terms of the labor and financial costs typically associated with planting trees. He stated in a recent news report that its drones “plant at 10 times the rate of hand planting, and at 20 percent of the cost.”

These smart drones can significantly increase efficiency and decrease the financial cost of the planting process, especially in highly inaccessible areas, such as regions with difficult terrain and unstable weather patterns. The drone-planting process created by Biocarbon Engineering is scalable, making it a sustainable mechanism for addressing the alarmingly large gap between the amount of trees destroyed and the number replanted on an annual basis.

Smart Ag BioCarbon Engineering

Photo: BioCarbon Engineering

The BioCarbon Engineering planting system uses multiple drones and Big Data for planting optimization. The firing/planting drone follows a pre-set planting pattern determined from an algorithm, which uses information from a separate scanning drone. The scanning drone can map an area within minutes.

Fletcher, an engineer who worked at NASA for two decades on projects such as the International Space Station and some of the robotics used on Mars, knows quite a bit about what can happen when developers apply automated engineering and IoT technology to biological systems. He recently highlighted the scale and impact of the drones, stating, “We're firing at one a second, which means a pair of operators will be able to plant nearly 100,000 trees per day. So 60 teams like this will get us to a billion trees a year.”

Go Green with Precision Forestry

  • Learn more about DroneSeed technology and its applications and data collection.
  • For footage of drones developed by DroneSeed, watch this video.
  • Grow your knowledge of 3D drone mapping, planting biodegradable seedpods, monitoring and data collection from BioCarbon Engineering.

IoT Key Ingredient in the Recipe for Food Safety Success

Create: 09/06/2017 - 15:00

Image Source: Centers for Disease Control and Prevention

 

While IoT is likely to come to mind when we think of groundbreaking improvements in automotive safety and innovative safety solutions for industrial workers and first responders, another way IoT is helping make life safer for all consumers is in its ability to improve food safety—specifically by bringing today’s food ecosystem into the modern technological era.

September is National Food Safety Education Month, which is dedicated to spreading greater knowledge of food safety issues and how to avoid them. Unfortunately, illnesses related to contaminated or poorly handled food are still all too common. Just how common? Approximately one in six—around 48 million—people per year get sick from eating contaminated food in the United States alone.

Historically, illnesses caused by food chain problems have been difficult to pinpoint. And even when the exact source of contamination can be identified, it often takes quite a while to track it down—in some cases several weeks or even months. These delays not only cause further illness, but also wasted product, lost revenue and sometimes, lost lives. The deadly 2011 listeria outbreak that killed 33 people began at the end of August 2011, but its exact source—contaminated cantaloupe from Colorado’s Jensen Farms—wasn’t identified until October of that year. And while most food-borne illnesses aren’t fatal, they leave a great deal of damage in their wake. The burrito chain Chipotle suffered from yet another food-borne illness outbreak this summer, leading to a stock selloff that left a $516 million dent in its market cap.

Then there’s also the issue of compliance. Passed in 2011, the FDA’s Food Safety Modernization Act (FSMA) was a sweeping reform of food safety laws aimed at making the U.S. food supply safer—not just by focusing on responding to contamination problems, but by taking greater steps to prevent contamination from happening to begin with. So companies’ motivation to improve food chain related processes are not only coming from within, but also from the need to conform to these new requirements.

Fortunately, IoT is well positioned to help achieve greater safety in the food ecosystem on both fronts, facilitating improved prevention and improving response and traceability.

Smart Solutions Prevent Problems

To prevent contamination from happening, smart technologies are being leveraged in the food ecosystem to improve outdated food safety protocols and to increase operational efficiency. Thanks to IoT technologies, manual checks of equipment temperatures are starting to become a thing of the past, replaced with wireless sensors that directly connect refrigerators and other kinds of temperature controlled environments to the cloud. A smartphone is all an operator needs to be able to view tracked temperatures in real-time, ensuring both food chain equipment and food product temperatures are meeting set standards and regulatory requirements. Designated parties receive instant alerts letting them know if any issues arise, allowing problems to be remedied as quickly as possible. 

Companies like ORBCOMM, a leading global provider of machine-to-machine and IoT communication solutions, have embraced meeting the FSMA requirement. Its new PT 6000 next generation cold chain monitoring solution is aimed at helping fleets of all sizes meet the regulatory requirements within the Food Safety Modernization Act.

The tracking unit is available as a 3G or LTE cellular or dual-mode satellite-cellular version, and allows companies to monitor fuel and temperature management, maintenance, logistics and regulatory compliance for refrigerated transport assets.

The real-time capabilities enable complete visibility and control of cold chain operations, ensuring the quality of temperature-controlled food products as they move through the supply chain.

IoT-powered solutions like these help prevent problems by providing a reliable way for companies to remotely track, monitor and control fixed and mobile food product assets.

Blockchain Brings Greater Accessibility and Transparency

When it comes to addressing a food ecosystem problem once it has already occurred, a major roadblock has been the inability to quickly track down the exact source of the issue. This is often due to a lack of traceability and access to pertinent information—which is where IoT, again, can vastly improve the process.

In August of this year, IBM teamed up with a group of leading companies across the global food supply chain to form a major blockchain collaboration with the intention of further strengthening consumer confidence in the global food system. The consortium, which includes Dole, Driscoll’s, Golden State Foods, Kroger, McCormick and Company, McLane Company, Nestlé, Tyson Foods, Unilever and Walmart, will be working with IBM to help identify new areas where the global supply chain could benefit from blockchain.

IBM blockchain

Image source: IBM

Blockchain’s characteristics are perfectly matched to overcoming the obstacles that slow down the process of tracking and identifying problem points in the food ecosystem since it establishes a trusted environment for all transactions. It enables every player in the supply chain—from growers to suppliers, processors, distributors, retailers, regulators and consumers—to gain secured access to trustworthy information about all transactions related to the food chain process.

With the ability to access the full range of information of the food product in question, all permissioned blockchain members can swiftly trace any contaminated product to its exact source, ensuring its timely and safe removal from purveyors’ shelves.

IoT Plants Seeds for Better Food Safety

IoT Ready to Take Flight in New Zealand

Create: 08/15/2017 - 14:49

Photo: New Zealand IoT Alliance

New Zealand may soon have as many IoT sensor networks as it does species of kiwis. The difference is, IoT is going to take flight. With a potential net value to New Zealand of as much as $3.3 billion over 10 years from just nine applications, the IoT opportunity is a big one for solution providers and the country alike, according to a new report.

The study was commissioned by the New Zealand IoT Alliance, an independent, member-funded group made up of major corporations, tech firms, startups, universities and government agencies. The report examines topics critical to successful IoT adoption, including key opportunities, what’s holding back IoT uptake and recommended actions. 

Key Opportunities

The study singles out four key opportunities for using IoT to generate economic growth in New Zealand:

1.      Agribusiness. As a significant contributor to the New Zealand economy, IoT can improve productivity and efficiency. For example, IoT could be used to reduce environmental impacts and potentially help add value to volume.

2.      Across cities. IoT can reduce operational costs and make cities more desirable for citizens. Cities can also benefit from sharing data, leading to new business and revenue streams by third parties.

3.      Utilities. IoT metering reduces costs for both the supplier and the consumer. Opportunities include better network load management, early identification of leaks, automatic meter reading and accurate billing.

4.      Asset tracking. Tracking location and usage of equipment, cargo and vehicles drives efficiency and reduces maintenance.

New Zealand IoT Alliance

Photo: New Zealand IoT Alliance

What’s the Holdup?

While the potential upside for solution providers and the country is enormous, in order to realize these key opportunities, some obstacles must first be addressed.

According to the research, awareness, education and knowledge are the primary factors holding back the country’s IoT uptake.

Lack of awareness of how IoT can improve business is seen as the key barrier to the uptake of the technology. The fact that the most commonly cited barrier is upfront costs (21 percent of firms share this concern) reveals that most organizations lack clarity around the return on investment (ROI) they could receive. There is little understanding from Line-of-Business of the role real-time data can play and the value of that data, which translates to lower demand for it.

Fragmentation in the ecosystem is another key contributor to the slower implementation. As a function of being a country of small scale, New Zealand’s IoT solutions are fragmented by industry, making it more challenging to solve customer problems profitably. IoT use cases are not yet standardized and repeatable across industries—and often not even within industries.

Another missing piece to speeding up the country’s adoption of IoT is finding the right talent. The country needs mathematicians and data scientists who can develop algorithms to create analytical applications that will provide relevant and accurate insights. More IoT means more new kinds of employment, roles that require confidence with technology, a broad understanding of IoT and deeper understanding of the relevant parts of the ecosystem to the role.

Anticipated roles that will be in greater demand include:

  • Data scientist
  • Agricultural technologist
  • Data security expert
  • IoT business analyst
  • Grid optimization engineer.

The final obstacle in the way of the country’s greater IoT uptake is the technology’s confusing plethora of standard protocols.

If a company is deploying IoT sensors, should it choose LPWAN for IoT connectivity? If so, is Sigfox, LoRa WAN or NB-IoT the right choice? Or should it be considering cellular connectivity instead? If so, 2G, 3G, 4G, 4.5G—or should it wait for 5G? Add in questions of Bluetooth, RFID, Thread, not to mention messaging protocols—MQTT or CoAP, or maybe Node—and confusion is quite understandable.

While multiple standards for different purposes makes sense in the long run, in the interim, the overabundance of options undermines customers’ confidence in making the best long-term decision, especially regarding the longevity of standards.

More Education, Less Fragmentation

Encouraging greater adoption of IoT requires addressing the above barriers. According to the research, this can be done through:

  • Reduction of Fragmentation. The industry, sector leaders, government and academia should work together to reduce fragmentation, improve knowledge and experience sharing.
  • More digital learning in schools. The government should continue to increase the focus on digital learning in primary and secondary schools to prepare the next generation with the skills they will need to exploit technologies such as IoT.
  • Evolving tertiary courses. Tertiary providers should evolve courses to enable their students to develop the skills required for future jobs, including emerging IoT roles.
  • Greater investment in IoT research. The government should ensure there are no unnecessary barriers deterring universities from undertaking research into IoT or preventing the IoT sector from accessing current R&D funding mechanisms.
  • More collaboration to increase awareness. The government and industry should collaboratively create awareness and better understanding of the standard protocols to help reduce inhibition of business decision makers.

New Zealand IoT Alliance

Photo: New Zealand IoT Alliance

The Power of Partnerships

The report notes that the key to success of IoT is partner relationships. To realize the opportunities that IoT can provide for New Zealand and for solution providers, greater attention should be paid to partnerships in the ecosystem, the developer community and alliances at the business and strategic level.

Partnerships in the ecosystem. Within the IoT ecosystem, no one vendor can do everything well. Mechanisms to encourage the development of strong partnerships will help enable the growth of IoT.

Developer community. New Zealand needs greater collaboration at the developer level, whether through professional groups or crowdsourcing type events, particularly aimed at young people to encourage skill development and connections.

Alliances at the business and strategic level. While vendors are likely to be reticent to collaborate at the technical level, strategic IoT alliances are a way to foster growth.

All the above actions can be supported by the development of a strong collaborative community or ecosystem. To learn more about the research and gain greater insight into solution provider opportunities, read the full report, “Accelerating a Connected New Zealand.” 

Smart Ag IoT Optimizes Growth in Plant Nursery

Create: 07/21/2017 - 20:45
Libelium smart ag

Photo: Libelium

 

The Internet of Things is continuing to transform the agriculture industry and how it does business. According to BI Intelligence, IoT device installations in the agriculture world is expected to increase from 30 million in 2015 to 75 million in 2020, for a compound annual growth rate of 20 percent. The majority of the attention paid to IoT-powered technology investment in agriculture has been focused on improvements related to farming and saving precious crops.

Significant improvements to wireless sensor networks have opened a range of possibilities for farmers and agricultural management organizations, according to Ana Sancho, Libelium key account manager for agriculture, water and the environment. Based in Zaragonza, Spain, Libelium makes a variety IoT sensors and data platforms. It partners with more than 90 solution providers and has a global customer base that use its environmental sensor technology on farms as well as in hospitals, smart cities and factories.

Challenges in Smart Agriculture

Sancho explained at a recent IoT conference that when growers can get real-time information from different water, soil or air parameters in a field, they can make strategic decisions that save resources and optimize yields. She noted that while Libelium is starting to see integration of IoT technology in agriculture, the installation of sensors and other data-gathering devices is not happening as fast on the farm as in other industrial segments.

Sancho, who is an agricultural engineer with a post-graduate degree in logistics and food safety, said that the greatest challenges in smart agriculture right now include:

  • Farmers typically have poor training in technology;
  • Fields are located in remote or isolated areas;
  • Growers have low budgets to carry out large technology projects, due to dependence on their annual harvest;
  • Most companies in the agricultural segment are very small with few employees;
  • Global climate change makes weather and ambient conditions less predictable;
  • Pests can ruin an entire harvest.

In the Weeds with IoT

Libelium offers multiple vertical solutions and works with solution providers to implement platforms for customers that monitor vitals such as the environment (air quality index), water ions (water quality in rivers, lakes, seas), and soil parameters, such as chemical levels and moisture content.

“With precision agriculture, growers have many benefits, including cost savings in water, energy and fertilizers,” says Sancho. She added that IoT can help product loss prevention, as growers can get real-time alerts about crop conditions and make adjustments to reach optimal conditions. “Growers can use data to plan specific strategies and make predictive models. For instance, if they know a cycle of fruit flies is about to happen due to temperature changes, they can make adjustments to when they pick their crop,” says Sancho.

Keeping Tabs on the Greenhouse

Libelium recently worked on a project with Agnov8, which develops software for managing wholesale plant nurseries. Agnov8 deployed a large environmental sustainability project at Cameron’s Nursery, a wholesale plant grower in Arcadia, New South Wales, Australia.

For the nursery, Agnov8 developed a complete smart system to monitor soil, water quality, water storage and environmental parameters. The company installed the Libelium Waspmote Plug & Sense! Sensor Platform in two different locations at the site. The devices are deployed in the main dam and recycling pit, allowing Cameron’s Nursery to monitor water temperature, pH, electrical conductivity (EC), oxidation reduction potential (ORP) and Dissolved Oxygen (DO). Both collect water runoff from across the production nursery during natural precipitation and water irrigation cycles.

Libelium smart ag

Image: Libelium

The system uses Waspmote Plug & Sense! Smart Metering to control water irrigation tank volume with an ultrasound sensor that monitors the volume of water in storage. The Waspmote Plug & Sense! Smart Agriculture PRO mounted in a greenhouse provides information about soil temperature, soil moisture, leaf wetness, air temperature and humidity. Installed outdoors, Waspmote Plug & Sense! Smart Agriculture has an anemometer, wind vane and pluviometer sensor and monitors wind speed, gusts, direction and amount of rain. Another of the devices monitors soil temperature and soil moisture. Waspmote Plug & Sense! Ambient Control is also present in the greenhouse and measures luminosity.

All sensor nodes connect through a meshed WiFi network, using WPA2 authentication. Data is sent to the cloud in intervals that vary from 5 to 15 minutes. The nodes use HTTP to communicate with an on-site gateway. The gateway in turn communicates securely, using TLS1.2, with Agnov8’s cloud based SaaS platform. Agnov8’s multi-tenant SaaS is hosted on AWS Cloud Platform.

The wireless sensor network deployment has improved overall crop yields at Cameron’s, providing visibility of indoor and outdoor growing parameters, including temperature, luminosity and humidity. Cameron’s Nursery is now able to immediately intervene at early growing stages of its crop, which is when these measured parameters can have a severe impact on the growth of its young crop.

This IoT project has enabled the staff to make any decisions based on real facts. Every process has been improved along with the daily work of each farmer. “We can see exactly what is occurring on the farm whether we are on or off site,” says Sonja Cameron, Cameron’s Nursery director.

Put a Stake in the Ground in Ag IoT

Smart Underwater Drone Protects Salmon

Create: 05/15/2017 - 17:55
stingray drone IoT agriculture

Photo: Stingray

 

A new underwater application of IoT drone technology is helping salmon farmers in Scotland and Norway successfully defend their fish, and their profits, from lousy parasites. The farmers are bringing in the big guns, laser-wielding robots that protect the salmon from sea lice. Though very small, the lice can do a great deal of damage, injuring or even killing farmed fish.

With a typical pen containing 50,000 to 150,000 swimming fish inside, what is a relatively harmless problem for wild fish, becomes a real threat to captive ones. The lice attach themselves to the salmon, feeding off their protective external mucus membranes, blood and tissue. In this environment, the sea lice can quickly cause injuries serious enough to compromise the salmon, making it unsuitable to bring to market. These setbacks can be devastating to an industry that reels in approximately $10 billion annually.

Fortunately, laser-armed robots are helping the salmon farmers shoot their way out of the situation. This software-and-camera-controlled underwater drone hero can zero in on individual louses attached to fish, shooting a narrow, deadly laser beam at the parasite while leaving the fish unharmed. This lice-exterminating machine, called the Stingray—made by Stingray­ Marine Solutions—can kill tens of thousands of lice each day with its Optical Delousing™ capabilities.

Laser-wielding Robots at Work

About the size of a heavy punching bag, the Stingray’s watertight aluminum exterior contains a surgical diode laser (the kind used in ophthalmology, dentistry and hair removal) and a processor running image-matching software, along with small thrusters to move it through the water, a winch for a buoy and a 220-volt power source.

 

Stingray drone salmon industry

Photo: Stingray

The software used to identify the lice is similar to the face-matching technology used on a mobile-phone camera, but much speedier. If the drone registers two matching frames, confirming that it’s pointed at a louse, the laser is triggered. From a distance of up to 2 meters, the 530-nanometer-wavelength beam quickly turns a tiny, dark blue louse into a floating crisp. Thanks to the highly reflective, mirror-like quality of the fishes’ scales, the danger of accidentally targeting it by mistake is extremely remote.

Swimmingly Smart IoT

Designed with IoT technology that makes the Stingray unit mostly autonomous, it boasts custom software that can take temperature, oxygen levels and salinity into account when deciding where to position itself and when to fire its laser beams. The Stingray software system is the only one of its kind, and a pioneer in the robotization and automatization of lice removal in the aquaculture industry.

This IoT-powered, smart optical salmon delousing solution enables the fish farmers to avoid demanding and inexpedient operations, saving labor costs and manual operations expenses, and reducing the number of lost feeding days. And as a result, it’s growing in popularity. First made available for sale in 2014, the Stingray node is now zapping lice at 100 salmon farms in Norway, and it was introduced in Scotland at the end of 2016.

Lean more about how Stingray drones improve animal health in the fishing industry and watch videos of the underwater drone at work. 

Pages

Subscribe to Agriculture