Sunday, April 26, 2015

A Budding New Role for the Internet of Everything



Even vegetables can be smart in the Internet of Everything (IoE). Amid the massive growth of connected devices expected between now and 2020, a small but increasing number of sensor technologies are being put to agricultural or horticultural use.

Stroll through the leafy boulevards of Mollet del Vallès in Catalunya, Spain, for example, and what you may not realize is that the health of the trees around you is being monitored through a smart system installed by the Spanish public sector services firm Urbaser.

In Avilés, northern Spain, a similar system allows Urbaser technicians to take ultrasound ‘x-rays’ of tree trunks to check the plants are well. Spotting early signs of rot or other problems is not just important for the health of the plants.

If undetected, a rotten tree could break or fall and potentially hurt people nearby, particularly in an urban setting. A similar problem can occur when a tree becomes too top-heavy for its roots, so that it becomes more likely to topple over in high winds.

An Australian firm called ENSPEC has come up with a smart sensor system designed to overcome just this issue.

Its Treesensor system is “the only method available to measure root-plate stability using natural wind forces, scientifically,” according to Craig Hallam, managing director.

“Treesensor is designed to read accelerometers,” he explains. “The data is stored on memory cards then uploaded to Treesensor in the cloud. There is also a software version to load on computers. It allows the arborist to determine if a tree is within the limits of stability.”

These arboriculture applications are still in their infancy. In agriculture, though, the use of wireless sensor technology is already popular.

Sol Chip, which makes power systems for IoE devices, says: “The use of sensors helps to monitor nutrients in the soil, humidity, temperature, density of weeds, and factors affecting production.”
The application of technology to farming has even led to the rise of new disciplines such as precision agriculture, where crop growth is carefully monitored and controlled through the use of satellite imaging and sensors.

This transition from ‘green digits‘ to ‘green digital’ in agriculture is credited with helping to get young people back into farming. Rural youngsters are returning to farmsteads because of the intellectual challenges arising from the use of new technologies.

Another big area for IoE in agriculture is traceability systems. To date, RF identity tagging has been most extensively used to track livestock, but recently the Indian government has been studying the possibility of introducing a tracking system for mangoes.

‘Mangonet‘, as it is being named, is designed to help India circumvent a European ban on mango imports that was introduced in May 2014 because of fruit fly infestations.

Indian farmers resorted to technology to control the outbreak in their crops, logging field notes on iPads and introducing a pest surveillance system called HortiSAP (for Horticulture Pest Surveillance and Advisory Project), developed by the Indian National Centre for Integrated Pest Management.
Even so, nowadays you don’t need to take a trip to India, or even to your local farm, if you want to see plants benefiting from network technology. With Parrot‘s Flower Power sensor system you can offer a dose of IoE to your floral friends at home.

“Flower Power monitors the four parameters that are crucial for your plant’s health: sunlight, soil moisture, ambient temperature and fertilizer levels, parameters people cannot really verify by themselves,” says Parrot’s PR director, Vanessa Loury.

“Via this application, you’ll be able to associate the sensor to the plant you’d like to monitor, out of a library of 8000 plants, trees, and vegetables. This means the sensor will know exactly what your plant requires to grow.”

Loury says Flower Power was originally designed for “rookie gardeners, expert gardeners, or involuntary perpetual plant killers,” but the company now wants to “make precision agriculture and horticulture accessible to everyone.”

Whether it is in the field, roadside, or living room, what is clear is that the trend for Internet-connected plants is set to blossom.

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