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Demand for food is rising along with population increases, while climate change, an increase in natural disasters and other factors are reducing the amount of available water and arable land. These are global challenges where the digitalization of agriculture could play a disruptive role, especially with new developments in Internet of Things (IoT) technology. By disrupting current IoT capabilities in terms of coverage, performance and ease of deployment, a new world of opportunities arises for smart agriculture by offering real-time information to provide situational awareness and data-driven decision making.

Smart-IoT solutions — where connected sensors are augmented with artificial intelligence (AI) and machine learning (ML) — help create smarter agricultural activities directly addressing the food security challenges faced in many parts of the world. IoT sensors can provide valuable data on soil moisture, vegetation growth, crop health and protection and pest infestations, enabling farmers to make informed decisions on how to optimize operations (e.g., irrigation, fertilization, pest control, etc.) while reducing costs (e.g., less fertilizer and water use, etc.).

Widespread adoption of these powerful tools is limited today by a lack of connectivity and affordability. Even in the U.S., only about a quarter of farms use connected devices — and much of it runs on slow 2G or 3G cellular networks (McKinsey). Many of the sensors are of the “beep IoT” variety, with inadequate data rates to meet the demand for AI and ML at the edge. On the other end, broadband via traditional satellite is prohibitively expensive for all but the largest operations and often relies on large, bulky terminals. 

Smart-IoT from the E-Space constellation 

The E-Space connectivity platform will provide a new class of ubiquitous, low-cost Smart-IoT services for agriculture offering a large-scale solution to deliver vast amounts of data from hundreds or thousands of devices. Farmers who thought this technology was out of reach or unavailable will be able to take advantage of cutting-edge solutions to optimize their operations.  

The E-Space technology consists of significantly smaller connected devices that can work with a variety of sensors and apps connected to a low Earth orbit satellite constellation to provide service anywhere on the planet. With high data rates, enhanced security and resilience and actionable intelligence via AI and ML, the system provides cost-effective deployment beyond today’s IoT offerings. 

While Smart-IoT has many use cases for agriculture, two of the most common are:

Asset/machinery tracking  

Giving farmers the ability to operate multiple pieces of equipment remotely mean enormous yield gains — especially when combined with smart farming techniques for precision seeding and fertilizing using accurate positioning. Connected sensors on the machinery also result in fuel economy and better tracking of assets, while AI data management enables automated adjustments and critical metrics to continuously monitor and improve operations. 

Crop monitoring sensors 

Connected sensors that monitor variables such as soil moisture, soil composition and local weather give farmers a powerful tool to optimize the use of fertilizers, planting, harvesting and irrigating efficiently. Further, these tools can provide an early-warning system for things such as drought and pest infestations.

Other use cases for Smart-IoT monitoring in agriculture include:

  • Smart irrigation: IoT sensors can be used to optimize irrigation by monitoring soil moisture levels, weather conditions and crop water requirements. Automating irrigation systems with real-time data ensures crops receive the right amount of water at the right time for improved crop yield.
  • Livestock monitoring: IoT sensors can provide real-time data on body temperature, heart rate and feeding patterns. This helps farmers track animal movement while also enabling detection of illness and breeding optimization.
  • Precision farming: Along with connected soil sensors tied to a Smart-IoT network, satellite imagery and weather forecasts can help farmers analyze data to create customized plans for planting, fertilization and harvesting. IoT sensors connected anywhere can enhance overall situational awareness while optimizing the economic and environmental performance of the farm.
  • Environmental monitoring: Smart-IoT sensors tracking air quality, temperature and humidity can help farmers assess climate change impacts, detect weather patterns and make informed decisions about crop selection and cultivation practices.

By creating a Smart-IoT network that’s ubiquitous and affordable, E-Space aims to empower everything from small family farms to very large agricultural operations with the tools they need to maximize efficiency in the face of a changing global climate epidemic and all other challenges they may experience in the years ahead.

William Ricard

Based in Toulouse, France, William Ricard is E-Space director of commercial strategy and product development.