An agricultural technology experiment is underway in Reedley, in Fresno County. Fybr, a low power wireless networking company, is working with DaCapo Agricultural Corporation to determine whether Internet of things (IoT) enabled soil and temperature sensors and irrigation controls produce a real benefit, and if so, how much. So far, the answer is yes and significantly.
Fybr installed water, moisture and temperature sensors at different depths in the ground and temperature sensors in the canopy of a dozen plum and grape orchards, and flow monitors and valves in irrigation pipes. Those were linked back to an Alexa-enabled, voice activated control system via Fybr’s low power, low bit rate wireless network. It’s based on the LoRa standard and uses Semtech chips, but Fybr made its own, proprietary modifications to reduce the amount of energy consumed – the target is ten years between battery changes.
This system allowed them to do two things: determine how much water was being wasted due to saturated soil or because it was simply percolating beyond the reach of the roots, and control the temperature of the trees and vines by spraying water to cool them down or prevent freezing.
The full results won’t be ready until after the current growing season, but a comparison of preliminary data with adjacent control blocks indicates that the level of overwatering had been in 30% to 40% range. Heat-related losses during harvesting dropped from $2 million two years ago to zero this year. It appears that granular temperature control mitigated a risk factor that averages about 20% of value per year.
Smart city infrastructure, and not ag tech, is Fybr’s main line of business. The company says it has smart parking systems deployed in a handful of U.S. cities (and one in India), including San Francisco, and is expanding its range of urban applications to include water/waste water system and environmental monitoring.
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Open source and cable industry are terms seldom found in the same sentence. But that’s about to change and it might be a very big deal indeed. CableLabs is the jointly funded, common technical development organisation for the cable industry, worldwide. Its crown jewel is the twenty year old DOCSIS standard, which is the engine that drives data delivery over hybrid fiber-coax systems in the U.S., and most of the the rest of the world. Although widely adopted, it is proprietary to CableLabs and its members – you have to pay for privilege of using it, and you pretty much have to follow the specs as given.
It’s taken a radically different approach to low power, wireless Internet of Things technology, though. There are several solutions kicking around, including the LoRa Alliance, SigFox and an adaptation of LTE technology. CableLabs has chosen LoRa, which takes a similar approach to licensing and certification as the WiFi Alliance. Its not free or open source, but it is a widely available radio frequency (RF) platform that’s optimised for particular kinds of applications: low power, battery-operated devices that need to send signals relatively long distances, say a kilometer or two in cities, and 10 or 20 kilometers in rural areas.
CableLabs developed key layers that sit on top of this basic, RF pathway and handle the actual exchange of data and management of devices in the field. Instead of limiting the use of the technology to its member cable companies, CableLabs has posted the source code and offered it to all comers for free on GitHub, under the very permissive terms of the MIT open source license.
The reason is straightforward, according to Daryl Malas, the principal architect of CableLabs’ advanced technology group…
[Low power wide area networks] need to be deployed broadly across national and international regions. This will enable the use of many sensors across these same regions. As we make use of the sensor data, it will enrich our lives with information to make better choices, ensure higher quality results and guide us towards a better future. By making a portion of this network available for open-source, our goal is to lower the barrier for the cable industry and other industry participants to enable these solutions for consumers and governments.
Interoperability and easy access to big data streams will drive IoT business models. CableLabs is giving its cable industry members a shot at owning a big chunk of that market by putting them at the center of what it hopes will be a well-populated ecosystem.