Smart Agriculture is a “mesh”

A case study on Smart Agriculture

It’s hard to determine exactly when and where agricultural practices first started, but it’s estimated to have been around 8500 BC in several parts of the world. People began to grow wheat, barley, peas and lentils, instead of gathering them wild. Since those days, many things have changed and humans started to grow edibles faster and better by creating mechanisms such as greenhouses, seed selection, four-field crop rotation, etc. In a near future many of these processes will evolve to genetic modifications (e.g. disease resilience), and the use of less aggressive pesticides that harm humans. Nowadays, agriculture is a very intensive activity, in order to cope with the huge increase in population , which ultimately forces businesses to resort to industrial methods.

The industrialization of agriculture is something we, as humans, have been practicing since the 20th century. However, with the rise of the industry 4.0, a new paradigm will emerge in agriculture. The tough people working from sunrise to sunset will become more dependent on technology, and that will happen to their advantage. They will still enjoy the beautiful view of agricultural fields, with the upside of having the advantage of knowing, with a great level of accuracy, what’s the crop’s state, and thus make their businesses a lot more efficient, saving a lot of time and back pain in the process. Smart Agriculture is a whole category in the IIoT (Industrial Internet of Things) realm. In this context the agricultural fields are teeming with sensors, that keep a constant flow of data to the cloud. The farmer has access to a dashboard using his mobile phone or computer, checking real time data of his crop and the impact it will have business-wise. The above diagram describes the generic process that occurs in IoT.

Sensors deployed in the fields can be of any type (e.g. soil moisture, pH, air humidity and temperature, solar radiation, etc.), generating a lot of data. The generated data flows through any type of communication interface or protocol, either supported by the sensor itself or by a gateway, which in turn will make the data flow into the cloud. When the data reaches the cloud, it can be analysed and viewed in real-time. The farmer is then able to receive real-time notifications of any kind (e.g. water shortages, fire, etc.) and can also interact with the system (e.g. activating pumps, deploying autonomous agricultural vehicles or drones, etc.). Depending on the cloud system, he can even automate all these processes in a M2M (Machine-to-machine) fashion. All this happens seamlessly, with little interaction from the farmer. This enables a holistic view of the business, by providing accurate estimations of the production, ultimately leading to a profitable business (i.e. precision farming).

HypeLabs, like many other companies in this domain, are working in a fast pace to solve some of the issues related to the presented model. Some companies work directly by putting their efforts in specific components of the referred model, while others work indirectly, by adding their services on top of the whole system.

The Hype SDK as an AIO solution for connectivity

The Hype SDK (Software Development Kit) is a product by HypeLabs that aims to solve the connectivity problem, one of the components of the model referred in this article. The presented model is based on the premise of existing connectivity, although that’s not always the case. Nowadays there are many solutions for connectivity, either in cellular networks or in the ISM Band (Industrial, Scientific and Medical Radio Band) such as WiFi, Bluetooth, and LoRa, just to mention a few. All these technologies have (dis)advantages, and all of them orbit mostly around range, bandwidth, reliability and battery efficiency. The Hype SDK is an AIO (All In One) solution in respect to connectivity. It’s a really smart piece of software that runs on any device, checking what communication interfaces it has available and uses the best one to communicate with nearby devices. If the data flows to the cloud, the nearby devices will forward data until it reaches a device that can reach the Internet. This happens regardless of the physical medium and/or hardware being used. Devices built with the Hype SDK can communicate in a decentralized system (i.e. with no infrastructure). They communicate in a mesh topology, which brings redundancy on communication, self-healing (i.e. no bottlenecks), resilience, heterogeneity and multi-transport, and all this regardless of the physical interface available (e.g. WiFi, WiMAX, Bluetooth, LoRa, LTE Cat 4, LTE Cat M1, NB-IoT, etc.).

The Hype SDK to lower the OPEX

Ensuring connectivity across several agricultural fields with considerable extensions of land requires the spending of at least 5 digits. This is only the beginning. Deploying a huge infrastructure of wireless gateways, power cables, batteries for the sensors, or solar panels, and so on, adds to the expenses, and the list is no close to be over. Adding to this cost of deployment, there are inherent costs of maintenance. Another strategy to reduce these initial costs is the use of cellular networks. Those are easier to deploy, but require cellular antennas that cover the whole fields (less space for growing crops). This strategy works out of the box, but brings with it a certain fee that scales in cost (even if the MNOs lower their fee for quantities). If MNOs decide to increase their fee, the OPEX will increase and the venture will become dependent on cellular rules, with no margin for optimizing OPEX.

By this time you already realize the potential of the Hype SDK: not only can it scale at a fraction of the cost, as it doesn’t rely on infrastructure (although it can coexist with existing infrastructure), with all the advantages of being able to use every physical interface available (e.g. WiFi, WiMAX, Bluetooth, LoRa, LTE Cat 4, LTE Cat M1, NB-IoT, etc.). This means that it’s possible to rely on agricultural vehicles for collecting data while harvesting and sending that data to the cloud via LTE, or when parking having a WiFi Access Point and upload that data as well. Drones could also be doing the same thing, while they are sulfiting the crops, or through a mesh of sensors where several of them on the edge of the fields can reach gateways with access to the Internet. The amount of different scenarios the Hype SDK can cope with is endless.

For scenarios where there’s simply no coverage or access for machines, like some greenhouses, the farmer can use a tablet and collect the data in loco and upload it to the cloud later (optiomaly) as well as visualize it in a dashboard in real-time.

Currently, HypeLabs is running a case study like the one referred in this article with one of its partners. Very soon it will be available not only just for customers but also for developers that might want to built their own applications or services on top of the Hype SDK.

Want to know more about Hype Technologies? This is merely an example of the use cases in which the Hype SDK can be applied to solve connectivity issues. If you’d like to explore more please visit HypeLabs.