Product Spotlight: Hardware

Insights

In a lot of industries, digital disruption can be completely software-driven. For sectors like finance and education, it’s apps and cloud software that are driving innovation.

With agriculture, things are a little different. Companies aiming to disrupt the space tend to focus on either hardware or software. Yet the nature of work farmers do means true innovation demands cutting-edge software and hardware.

Without software, standalone hardware cannot transform raw data into useful, meaningful information for growers. And without hardware, raw data can be unreliable, resulting in inaccuracies – the impact of which could be catastrophic.

That’s why, when we began to design Sensing+™, we dedicated significant resources to the development of hardware. We aimed to create a smart hardware solution that would work seamlessly with our equally smart software. We knew that by integrating hardware and software, we could change the way the industry works and thinks.

The Yield's technology partner and supporting hardware manufacturer, Bosch, first engaged with us in 2015. With their support and expertise, we now have truly revolutionary hardware supporting our data science and apps.

Here’s what makes Sensing+™ hardware unique.

It’s scalable

Every farm is different, and every grower has unique requirements. We knew from day one that Sensing+™ hardware needed to be able to work across a range of conditions and topographies, in an efficient and cost-effective way. It needed to be reliable, scalable and of enterprise quality. 

Sensing+™ communicates by creating a Farm Area Network - a type of network, in which each node can distribute data. Each sensor node can ‘hop’ data to other nodes, allowing for seamless data transfer to the on-farm communications gateway.  

Our Farm Area Network can cover 10 square kilometres or 30, 000 hectares. Importantly, it is flexible so that we are not limited to line of sight

Our ecosystem runs on a single data plan - reducing costs and risk of a communications failure.

In contrast, competing solutions often have disparate sections, each requiring a separate data plan (3G/4G) or are limited to line of sight communication to a gateway (LORA).

Our network layout allows you to scale up without requiring infrastructure changes. It also means that if a sensor node is down, the data collected by that node can be sent to another node, which can then send that data to the communications gateway. This ensures there are no gaps in the data sent to our cloud-based analytics platform. This is crucial for data continuity and the reliability of our 7-day predictions.

 

It’s fit for purpose

Bosch have long been leaders in automotive engineering and innovation. Automotive parts need to work in harsh environmental conditions – hot, cold, wet, dry. The same is true for agtech hardware. Agtech hardware needs to do more than just survive environmental factors - it must remain fully operational whether it’s raining or dusty, in the height of summer or the depths of winter.

Sensing+™ hardware's design protects the electronics against irrigation, insects, dust and agricultural sprays.

Agriculture Sector Specialist at Bosch Australia, Jesse Reader, says moisture, dust and thermal expansion are challenges other agtech companies have struggled with. This has resulted in below-par components that can put growers at risk due to system failure.

“The Yield hardware looks and feels robust - because it is. Emphasis has been placed on tough housing keeps the elements out. Smart design minimises moving parts, eliminating the risk of things like dropping screws in the field,” Reader said.

It uses cutting-edge communication protocols

Sensing+™ uses a communication protocol known as 6LoWPAN for on-farm wireless networking. It is a Standards-based Layer 3 protocol that enables wireless mesh routing, and transmission of large amounts of data. This allows us to deploy extensive sensor networks that can capture data from multiple microclimates. It also enables two-way communication, so the hardware can receive updates and fixes.

Sensing+™ supports many communication protocols for internet access, including 4G, 3G, LTE, Cat M and Ethernet. Its modular design allows support for other networking protocols (such as LoRa, when appropriate), and for Bluetooth connectivity to local sensors.  If internet connectivity goes down, the communications gateway has a built-in Wi-Fi hotspot. This ensures the system can always collect and deliver data to growers. Our Farm Area Network can run offline for up to 14 days without losing any data.

The ability to grow is key. Over 200 sensor nodes can be deployed per farm in the Farm Area Network. Each of those nodes has the capacity to handle around 3-4 times as many sensors than other solutions.  

Why is this significant? Hardware that captures and analyses more data means our software can extract more value from that data. And this helps growers realise faster ROI.

 

It has smart power management

Power management has always been an issue for IoT solutions in agriculture. IoT solutions need constant power, to ensure the collection of consistent, reliable data. For hardware without access to mains power, power management is crucial.

Sensing+™ hardware harvests energy via solar panels.  It is also designed to use power efficiently - the latest testing shows that each node is able to run for weeks without any sun at all (though actual results will vary depending on the sensors being used).

The triple bottom line of IoT

With the Internet of Things, we are always balancing power, distance and bandwidth. Normally you can only have two of the three. But with smart engineering from Bosch, our Farm Area Network TM gives us all three. Our Farm Area Network achieves:

  • Long distance coverage (up to 30,000 hectares ) that is not restricted to line of sight, through use of a smart mesh
  • Low-powered environment that runs from the solar panel integrated into the node
  • A transmission rate that allows for fast, efficient two-way communication from the gateway to the node

It reduces risk for growers

The aim of the Sensing+™ hardware and software ecosystem is to support decision-making and reduce risk for growers.

“The holy grail for this kind of tech is that it’s reliable, accurate and easy to install,” Reader said.

Bosch's engineering expertise has been invaluable in bringing our system design to life. Bosch's plant in Melbourne has one of the largest environmental testing chambers in this hemisphere. There, Sensing+™ supporting hardware has undergone rigorous testing and accelerated ageing models.

“That’s also something cheap solutions manufactured overseas won’t have,” explains Reader. “They won’t have that commitment to testing, reengineering and testing again.”

Sensing+™ for Agriculture is now available. Click here to learn more.

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