(Note: I am writing a column for a local newsletter about technology, and decided to share what I write on the blog. This is one of the first columns. – Matt)
The Internet of Things (IOT) is one of the fastest growing trends in technology right now. Put simply, IOT is connectivity for nearly device imaginable and the giant collection of data gathered from all of these devices. Two things have combined to make the Internet of Things possible – inexpensive devices with wifi capability and sensors built into them and widespread Internet connectivity.
One of the common examples of an IOT devices is a programmable thermostat like the Nest, that enables the user to put together a program that optimizes the temperature within their house, turn it up and down remotely and also track those temperatures over time. I have a home scale that is connected to the wireless access point in my house. Every time I step on it, it collects my weight and BMI and uploads it to a server on the Internet. Using an app on my smartphone, I can track those two numbers over time to determine the ineffectiveness of my diet and exercise plan and try to motivate myself to do better.
Smartphones are another example of IOT. Smartphones are constantly collecting data about location, apps used and websites visited, then uploading it to your service provider, phone manufacturer, operating system provider (Google for Android phones and Apple for iPhones) or the app vendor. Location tracking of phones was originally intended for 911 location of phones in emergencies, but it is now used by applications like Google Maps to determine traffic congestion and in many other programs to feed advertising to the phone user based on the user’s location and travel patterns. This data is also collected and sold to companies that use it for market analysis or research. Collection of this data is embedded in smartphones, and the only way to prevent it from being collected is to turn the phone off.
When it comes to agriculture, the Internet of Things holds tremendous potential. Farm equipment is using this type of functionality to notify owners about system problems, service intervals and recalls or upgrades available. GPS enabled “smart” tractors combine geolocation and soil data to optimize planting and fertilizer application. Connected security systems and cameras can be used to monitor remote locations and check crop progress. Small, connected sensors gathering information about rainfall, soil temperatures, humidity, ph and many other data points can be utilized to put together optimal growing profiles for fertilizer application, irrigation planning and determining the best time to plant or harvest. Agriculture is primed for an information overhaul, helping farmers and ranchers optimize their productivity and be more efficient with their resources.
The capabilities of IOT are also enabling more efficient use and tracking of natural resources. My company, Vistabeam, is working on a project with the North Platte Natural Resources District to collect information on water consumption in Western Nebraska. Currently, NPNRD collects water consumption data once a year by sending employees into the field to read water meters. It takes a considerable amount of time and manpower to read over 2000 meters and this only provides one data point over 12 months. Under the new project, smart meters are installed at the wells and upload several times a day to servers through the Vistabeam network. This allows the NRD to track water consumption data on a daily basis and they are developing apps that will allow producers to track this same data to use for irrigation planning. Tracking this data will enable the NRD and agricultural users to be more efficient users of water and can serve as the basis for improved agricultural practices in the future.
Internet of Things is just beginning to gain popularity, and it has a tremendous amount of potential to impact how we live and work, even in our rural, agricultural areas.