Global warming, air pollution, agricultural concerns, water crisis, waste management, and urbanization are only a few of the ecological challenges that we are facing today. Annually, we consume more natural resources than the planet can sustain in a year. In 2021 for example, we had already used a year’s worth of resources by the end of July. Despite the pandemic slowdown, global resource use hit new highs. To continue at this rate we would need 1.8 planet earth’s to fulfil our needs.
The Industrial Revolution was instrumental in the development of those ecological issues. Can the current technological revolution —and IoT in particular— help us find sustainable solutions to improve our planet’s ecosytem ?
In this series of articles, we’ll be looking at a number of ways in which IoT can help us manage our resources more efficiently and reduce our environmental impact… The subject is broad so we’ll be splitting it into several articles, each one looking in more depth at one application such as agriculture, biodiversity preservation, or green cities. We’ll be presenting a few innovations in each field to illustrate how IoT can help in each specific area.
This article was originally published in March 2020 and updated in February 2022.
With the rapid growth of the world’s population and accelerating globalization, our demands on the planet have increased manyfold. The UN predicts that the world will require 70 percent more food in 2050 than it did in 2006. Intensive farming methods are no longer seen as the solution as they consume a growing amount of resources. The increased use of pesticides used to improve yields is also responsible for generating more pollution than ever before.
IoT technology can make farming not only smarter but also less damaging to the planet. Farmers and investors are getting the gist of it. Proof is that Agritech is actually one of the few industries that not only outperformed other industries during the peak of the pandemic but accelerated to a great extent the pace of digitization in the sector.
Here are a few examples of connected applications currently revolutionizing the agriculture industry.
The use of IoT-based smart agriculture applications is becoming commonplace and encouraging results are ensuring that their use is becoming more widespread in farms. More efficient water usage via embedded sensors, drones that collect data on crops and self-driving tractors are but three examples.
Satellite images have been used to monitor farms for several years. Using drones equipped with a GPS system, farmers can collect data or images in real time to check soil moisture or the condition of crops and plantations.
Coupled with drones, or intelligent irrigation systems, these dedicated sensors can check the humidity level of plantations in order to plan the irrigation of the land in relation to the weather (using spraying drones or other automatic irrigation systems).
Within the crops themselves, sensors can be placed directly on the plantations to check the growth rate or hydration. Some intelligent robots are also used for weeding missions, thanks to a guidance system controlled by Artificial Intelligence (AI).
In South Africa, Saft supplies batteries to DFM for highly specialized hardware and software solutions; soil moisture probes that monitor critical data in real time and continuously log water levels, salinity, oxygen and plant root development. Read more here:
Battery solutions for smart agriculture - DFM use case
and here: Making farming smarter – and more environmentally friendly
Smart greenhouses like the one created by the start-up MyFood are another example of how IoT technology can benefit the farmer. Automating the controlling of shade screens, LED lighting systems, climate control, irrigation and dosing systems and combining this with historical data and crop analytics enables the farmer to increase the efficiency of the plot. This has other beneficial knock-on effects such as releasing the reliance on manual labor allowing workers to focus on other priority tasks.
Italy’s Emilia Romagna region is home to a smart irrigation system provided by Saft’s batteries user Libelium that helps improve the local Kiwi fruit harvest. Using wireless sensor networks connected to a GPRS system, information is collected on water stress conditions enabling swift action to be taken by farmers to alleviate any problems that could impact the health of the fruit.
During the harvest season, time is of the essence. Due to the cost of downtime for farm machinery, on large farms, combine harvesters are running at full speed from dawn to dusk. Coordination between operators is essential to optimize the harvesting process while reducing fuel consumption.
The « Harvest Coordination App » created by Axians Business Applications serves as a real-time dashboard for farmers. Drivers can exchange via instant messaging, view the dumpster fill gauge and are informed of the time remaining before finishing the field. Other indicators complement the tool, such as crop moisture content, yield per square meter, or grain quality (nutritional values). The drivers also receive indications on how to optimize their driving or get a safety alert when a person is near their vehicle.
Shortage of labor is another problem that can be addressed by the IoT: autonomous or semi-autonomous smart agricultural machines, empowered by the IoT, can assist farmers with numerous farm operations, including fruit-picking, harvesting, planting, transplanting, spraying, seeding, and weeding. La Chevre, a robot created by the Canadian startup Nexus Robotics makes use of sensors, deep learning algorithms and cameras to detect and remove weeds from fields. It also collects data about the growing conditions of the crops and enables farmers to leverage the data into making informed decisions.
The advent of smart breeding management systems and biosensors allows farmers to increase production while minimizing costs and the use of resources.
One of the main revolutions in the field of breeding is the "connected collar". This connected object, equipped with a multitude of sensors, allows the breeder to get information about the animal's condition and behavior: body temperature, ovulation and gestation period, ingestion, and rumination, feeding... They can then compare the behavior of each animal with that of the whole herd. This also reduces management costs as farmers can locate their livestock using connected sensors.
Recognition systems and biosensors are becoming more and more prevalent in farms: cameras or sensors placed under the skin of the animal can recognize the behaviors and needs of each animal, in order to provide specialized treatment. These technologies allow the early detection of certain diseases —swine flu, bird flu etc— or signs of distress in the animals, thus improving the quality of the milk or meat.
The management of food supplies for livestock hasn’t been overlooked by the IoT either. Livestock monitoring in agriculture is becoming more and more important for the livelihood of the farmers.
As an example, Rotecna, a leading global manufacturer of equipment for pig farms and another one of our clients, created Rotecna Silotronic, a sensor that uses lazer technology to measure in real time —and remotely— the level of feed available in the facilities. Continuous silo level measurement is a proactive method of stock monitoring in agriculture, that enables the calculation of the silos’ refill periods, in order to optimize feed distribution routes and times, reduce the transport costs and minimize the return of surplus product.
Read the case study here: A smart app for grain level monitoring, for smarter farming. Rotecna equips its Silotronic silos monitoring systems with Saft LSP Hybrid lithium batteries
Technologies such as these are growing necessity in today’s agricultural industry. With challenges like climate change, over-cultivation, and pollution it is important to be able to optimize farming operations and improve the sustainability of agriculture.
And in a world where traceability and transparency are increasingly demanded and seen as creating value, the IoT can help establishing a link of trust with the consumer. This is fueling digitization of food systems, logistical processes, storage facilities, quality checks, and financial transactions, among others, with greater integration of real-time data to a traceability system to generate critical business insights.
By rapidly processing the swathes of data produced by IoT sensors, computer vision, and more, farmers are able to —with the aid of machine learning— make impactful changes to everything from planting to harvesting. And as the use of the IoT becomes widespread in the agricultural industry, it will enable farmers to find more precisely the answers they need to increase yields and preserve the food supply of the future.
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