Enabling the Connected Farm
In today’s Smart Agriculture industry, it’s clear that all the major challenges in that space lead to IoT solutions. Advances in communication and sensing technologies are being married with advanced data analytics to ensure agricultural production that’s both sustainable and resource-efficient.
Gone are the days when farming and agriculture were thought of as low-tech endeavors. Indeed, the emergence of Smart Agriculture solutions are bringing all manner of advanced technologies into the hands of farm owners. Motivated to extract the most productivity out of their operations, farmers large and small are turning to Smart Agriculture solutions comprised of IoT-centric wireless communications, artificial intelligence (AI), machine learning, computer vision and more.
Over the last 12 months, suppliers of Smart Agriculture technologies have upped their game rolling out new products in the form of comms modules, analytic software tools, GNSS-based tracking devices, specialized cameras and more. Not surprisingly, many of these solutions overlap with technologies aimed at the Internet of Things (IoT).
It goes without saying that Smart Agriculture is a discipline that’s tightly connected to the environment and environmental conditions. Event-triggered imagining is important in agriculture because it provides a way to react and capture image data when conditions change. Providing a solution along those lines, in February ON Semiconductor introduced the RSL10 Smart Shot Camera. It combines cloud-based AI with ultra-low-power image capture and recognition, to enable IoT endpoints (Figure 1).
The RSL10 Smart Shot Camera adds the power of AI-based image recognition to ultra-low-power IoT endpoints, such as surveillance cameras, restricted areas, factory automation, smart agriculture and smart homes. A companion smartphone application provides a user interface for the platform and acts as the gateway to cloud-based, AI-enabled object recognition services.
The platform brings together a number of ON Semiconductor innovations, including the RSL10 SIP, which provides ultra-low-power Bluetooth Low Energy (BLE) technology, and the ARX3A0 Mono 65 degree DFOV IAS Module. The module is a compact prototype used for developing compact cameras with 360 fps mono imaging based on the ARX3A0 CMOS image sensor. Complemented by advanced motion and environment sensors and power and battery management, these technologies provide a complete solution that can be used to autonomously capture images and identify objects within them.
Using the RSL10 Smart Shot Camera, developers can create an endpoint that automatically sends an image to the cloud for analysis when triggered by various elements including time or an environmental change, such as light or temperature. Equally, the camera platform can operate in low power mode while monitoring a specific part of its field of view, automatically taking an image when the scene’s contents change.
The image is then sent to the cloud for processing, using AI to determine the contents of the image and then taking the appropriate action. The image data is transferred to the cloud through a gateway, connected over BLE, using the RSL10 SIP. The low power credentials of the components used in the platform mean it can operate for extended periods of time from a single primary or secondary cell. The triggers are configured using the companion app, also over BLE.
COMPREHENSIVE FARM SOLUTION
Among Trimble’s Smart Agriculture offerings is its Famer Core service. Farmer Core is an entry-level Trimble Ag Software subscription that enables farmers to connect all aspects of their farm operation. Available online and on any mobile device, Farmer Core is a software-as-a-service (SaaS) that integrates machine-generated data from precision agriculture displays to simplify farm setup and streamline farm operations (Figure 2).
Farmer Core leverages the AutoSync feature, which automatically syncs guidance lines, field names, boundaries, landmarks and operator information across Trimble Ag Software and Trimble displays using the Precision-IQ field application. Precision-IQ is used to collect and manage data from in-field activities. By reducing human error and eliminating the need to manually share data via USB, this new AutoSync functionality improves overall farm record integrity.
AutoSync is included with Trimble Ag Software subscriptions to Farmer Core, Farmer Fit or Farmer Pro. With AutoSync, Farmer Core significantly reduces duplication, data re-entry and human error because the creation and ongoing management of field and operator information—whether online, via the Trimble Ag mobile app or on the display—is automatically synced within minutes across the entire farm operation.
For its part, Trimble continues to expand its Trimble Select Partner program. Announced in August, the latest addition to this program is French ag-tech startup Sencrop. Sencrop develops and implements connected, accessible, and collaborative solutions based on agro-environmental data collection in order to make precision agricultural monitoring technology available to everyone.
A provider of ag-weather solutions connected to farm plots, Sencrop is the only connected ag-weather station solution available through Trimble in Europe. Under the Trimble Select Partner Program, Sencrop’s connected ag-weather station is available to customers through the Trimble and Vantage distribution networks in Europe as part of Trimble’s marketplace dedicated to precision agriculture.
According to Trimble, it’s important for farmers to have real-time weather data from their fields when performing tasks such as plowing, planting or harvesting. Sencrop helps by developing more accurate, efficient, and environmentally responsible agricultural techniques and practices for widespread implementation.
Among Sencrop’s flagship weather station products is its Raincrop system, a connected rain gauge. Raincrop provides real-time weather updates straight from farmers’ fields (Figure 3). With Sencrop’s mobile app, users can collect and analyze data from their stations and from other stations around them. That way, farmers can make informed, targeted decisions regarding their plots, protect their crops by anticipating risks and diseases, prioritize their actions and apply treatment at optimal times.
Raincrop connected rain gauges are designed to measure rainfall, temperature, humidity levels, wet-bulb and dew point temperature accurately straight from farmers’ plots. They can choose to use it by itself or to connect it with other stations installed in different fields to generate wind-related data, for instance.
The Raincrop Rain Gauge antenna connects to the Sigfox Network, covering most of the national territory. Three temperature and humidity sensors are combined in the device to deliver more reliable weather data and prevent measurements from drifting over time.
L1 AND L5 GNSS
GNSS (global navigation satellite system) signals are an important tool for any critical asset tracking task, and that includes heavy agricultural equipment. Feeding such needs, in March U-blox announced its first multi-band high accuracy timing solutions to concurrently support the L1 and L5 GNSS signals. The ZED-F9T-10B (Figure 4) and LEA-F9T-10B timing modules and the RCB-F9T-1 timing card deliver nanosecond-level timing accuracies required to synchronize cellular network base stations and smart power grids. The ANN-MB1 L1/L5 multi-band antenna completes the offering, making it easy to evaluate the performance of the timing modules and develop high precision solutions. This includes such Smart Agriculture assets as heavy machinery, ground robotics and drones.
The timing modules’ multi-band capability allows them to compensate the ionosphere error from all GNSS satellite constellations and reduce the timing error under clear skies to less than 5 ns without the need for an external GNSS correction service. To achieve maximum performance, the modules track signals from as many satellites as possible.
With satellite constellations transmitting signals on the L5 band nearing completion, the L1/L5 signal combination is becoming a viable option to complement the existing product portfolio based on L1 and L2 signals. Modernized L5 signals are expected to deliver improved performance, especially in difficult urban conditions. Because L5 signals fall within the protected ARNS (aeronautical radionavigation service) frequency band, they are also less subject to RF interference.
The LEA-F9T-10B, a new module with extended -40°C to +105°C temperature range, will enable the development of robust, future-proof solutions that leverage these new signals in the L5 frequency band. In addition to offering a differential timing mode for highly accurate local timing, the modules include a suite of advanced security features:
In addition to tracking GNSS signals in the L1 and L5 bands for new U-blox timing modules, ANN-MB1 targets developers in industrial navigation and robotics that are interested in high precision positioning technology to locate drones, ground robots and agricultural equipment accurately and in real-time.
COMPLETE POSITIONING SOLUTION
Also leveraging GNSS, in March ACEINNA announced the commercial availability of OpenARC, a complete, precise positioning hardware and software platform that offers easy system integration of GNSS corrections with high performance INS and RTK hardware (Figure 5). OpenARC is powered by Point One Navigation, a precise positioning service provider.
Autonomous vehicle systems, including autonomous Smart Agriculture vehicles, require position accuracy better than 10cm to achieve the performance targets and safety goals critical in autonomous applications. Unfortunately, GNSS alone falls short, enabling only meter level position accuracy, even under ideal operating conditions. A navigation system that includes an RTK positioning engine and GNSS corrections delivered from a ground-based network of secure base-stations will reliably improve position accuracy to centimeter level accuracy.
The streamlined OpenARC positioning platform combines Point One’s Polaris GNSS correction service with ACEINNA’s OpenRTK330 hardware and software solution for developers of autonomous systems in precision agriculture, mapping, surveying and robotics. OpenARC provides high precision and confidence in positioning and localization applications, enabling centimeter level accuracy for challenging tasks such as lane keeping, precision agricultural guidance, and drone landing maneuvers.
OpenARC is integrated into the OpenRTK330LI navigation module to provide a secure, vertically integrated, and easy-to-use positioning platform. OpenARC offers an easy registration and activation process, and is very scalable, supporting single unit installations to high-volume deployments.
OpenARC is powered by Point One’s proprietary Polaris GNSS cloud correction service built from the ground up for the needs of modern automotive and robotics customers. Polaris delivers superior station density in areas where operators need it the most, including urban centers and suburban surrounding areas, enabling cold convergence times of under 10 seconds—the fastest of any network solution available, says ACEINNA.
LoRa wireless WAN technology is very well suited to Smart Agriculture applications, including livestock tracking and more. A rich ecosystem of LoRa-based products has emerged over the past couple years, including edge sensors and gateways. In March, ICP Germany introduced its UG65 LoRaWAN gateway with 8 simultaneous channels, more than 2000 LoRaWAN nodes and a high-performance quad-core processor (Figure 6).
The UG65 can process data from sensors from a distance of up to 10km. The LoRa protocol V1.0 and V1.0.2 of class A and C is supported. Inside, a 64-bit Arm Cortex-A53 with a clock rate of 1,500MHz does its work. The UG65 also has 512MB DDR RAM, 8GB eMMC memory, a 10/100/1000 Base-T network connection, WLAN according to the IEEE 801.11b/g/n standard and optionally 2G /3G/4G cellular network reception (/ access). The UG65 offers an IP65 protected housing with the dimensions 180mm × 110mm × 57mm and can be attached directly to the workplace, to the wall or to a pole.
The device’s temperature range of -40°C to +70°C enables operation in protected outdoor facilities. The UG65 can either be operated with a voltage of 9VDC to 24VDC, or alternatively via the PoE 802.3 af-capable LAN connection. Common network functionalities, for example protocols such as MQTT, TCP, UDP; VPN tunnels such as OpenVPN, DMVPN; and access authentication such as CHAP, PAP, firewall functionalities and management options are inherent in the UG65. From the sensor to the cloud, the UG65 offers system integrators a wide range of options for bringing their data to the cloud.
In January, Semtech announced its LoRa Core portfolio with a new chipset. The LoRa Core portfolio provides global LoRaWAN network coverage and is targeted to several vertical industries including agriculture, asset tracking, building, metering and more.
The LoRa Core portfolio consists of sub-GHz transceiver chips, gateway chips and reference designs including SX126x series, SX127x series and LLCC68 transceiver chips, as well as the SX130x series gateway chips, legacy gateway reference designs and the LoRa Corecell gateway reference designs (Figure 7). Together, they represent the essential capability of Semtech’s LoRa devices including long range, low power and cost effective end-to-end communication.
New additions to the LoRa Core portfolio are a gateway baseband processor integrated with LoRa (SX1303) and an associated LoRa Corecell gateway reference design that supports the fine timestamp feature. The new LoRa Core gateway IC enables the network-centric geolocation of LoRa devices without requiring the inclusion of GPS hardware at each individual end node.
Based on a fine timestamp capability that provides accurate time of arrival information for each demodulated message, the new chipset allows gateways to perform network-centric geolocation based on Time Difference of Arrival (TDOA). This is ideal for several cost-sensitive asset tracking applications, such as livestock tracking, says Semtech.
TINY LoRaWAN MODEM
Size can be an issue in many Smart Agriculture use cases. With that in mind, in February Murata announced the expansion of its Type 1SJ product line with the addition of a new LoRaWAN modem solution. The AT-command controlled modem module version measures only 10.0mm × 8.0mm × 1.6mm, making it the smallest available in the world today, according to Murata (Figure 8).
Operating from a single supply rail up to 3.9VDC, the device incorporates several low power modes that allow the real-time clock (RTC) to operate while drawing a typical current of just 1.3µA. This current consumption level assures that a single battery can operate for years. Additionally, the resin mold package provides physical ruggedness with a -40ºC to +85ºC temperature range.
Based on a second-generation Semtech SX1262 radio frequency IC (RFIC), the Type 1SJ LoRaWAN modem module comes preloaded with AT Command controlled modem firmware and a LoRaWAN stack with an AT Command middle layer. These features enable a faster time-to-market and ease design challenges for IoT developers. The device currently supports the US915 band in North America. Future adaptations of the module are intended for Europe, India, China and Pacific Rim markets. It is suitable for a wide range of applications where a miniaturized footprint, long range, extended battery life, advanced security and a competitive price point are all critical requirements.
Murata says its new Type 1SJ LoRaWAN modem module allows designers to develop products that meet the most demanding requirements, especially in areas such as asset tracking, utilities, agriculture, smart cities and other IoT applications. The initial launch module supports US915 band only but modules supporting other bands such as EU868 band will be launched later.
DATA ANALYSIS TOOL
While many Smart Agriculture solutions are made for collecting data and tracking assets, it’s also important to be able to analyze and act on the information farmers collect. With that in mind, SPH Engineering provides a platform tool called ATLAS. ATLAS is an AI-driven digital platform for precision farming insights based on drones, aerial satellite data and use of AI detectors (Figure 9).
The tool enables users to automate the time-consuming manual analysis of drones and satellite data. The AI can be trained to search for regular objects (small crops, cattle), or complex ones (areas covered by pests). It can count objects of regular forms, such as 8715 trees on a plot 0.32 sq. km, with very high precision and instantaneously. ATLAS can do automatic image segmentation to help calculate the size of complex objects and areas, such as field covered by weeds.
ATAS can be used to perform fast crop scouting by making an automatic territory segmentation of crop imagery and calculate actual crop areas for insurance, crop scouting and yield prediction more accurately. ATLAS enables famers to share reports with all the stakeholders without delays on the day of surveying and make fast decisions. They can increase farm productivity and preserve crop quality through drone data analysis.
Excessive use of pesticides results in less efficient and less productive crops. To approach farming in sustainable ways, farmers can use ATLAS’ AI to accurately measure the area covered by weeds for calculating the minimum required volume of chemicals spraying, as well as the amount of heavy machine work hours and fuel for the focused deployment of weed killers and pesticides.
ATLAS can be used to track field changes by monitoring and comparing the fields, assessing drainage issues or losses, monitoring crop health and predicting yields. ATLAS can integrate any detection results to GIS or farm management applications. It can store raw aerial photography, orthomosaics, DSM, vector data (DXF, KML, Shape) and any additional files.
CELLULAR IoT IN AGRICULTURE
There’s no doubt that the technologies of Smart Agriculture overlap quite a bit with IoT. As a result, many of the communications technologies serving the IoT market likewise serve Smart Agriculture. According to Telit, innovative uses of IoT applications in agriculture are driving opportunities for forward-thinking operations to increase yields while improving food safety and delivery. From crop and livestock monitoring to water management, farm-to-fork regulatory compliance and more, sensors, gateways and modules work together to provide accurate real-time data that is collected and analyzed for more informed decisions, cost rationalization and streamlined regulatory compliance, says Telit.
Telit says that adding cellular or Wi-Fi networking functionality to sensors and other field devices is a task best accomplished using modules. Because of radio frequency engineering complexities and strict regulatory compliance requirements, device designers and integrators for the agro-industry must rely on ready-to-use modules over a “chip-down” approach adequate for other functional blocks of the design.
For its part, Telit offers several such IoT modules that it has classified as well suited for agriculture applications. An example is Telit’s LE910C1/C4-LA module. The LE910Cx series of 4G LTE modules are compliant with the 3GPP Release 10 and are available with optional quad- constellation GNSS capability (Figure 10). This compact LGA form factor family supports both single-mode and fallback as needed for specific regions, carriers and use cases.
The LE910Cx is MTC features ready according to 3GPP Rel.12. The module is easy to integrate with peripherals and actuators using USB 2.0 HS, UART and user definable GPIOs. It is also Internet friendly with integrated TCP/IP and UDP/IP stacks. The LE910Cx features simple drop-in migration and technology design reuse path to 2G and 3G with any xE910 module. It also supports over-the-air firmware updates. The LE910Cx is a member of Telit’s xE910 module family with 4G radio access technology in the 28.2mm × 28.2mm × 2.2 mm family form factor.
ACEINNA | www.aceinna.com
ICP Germany | www.icp-deutschland.de
Murata | www.murata.com
ON Semiconductor | www.onsemi.com
Point One Navigation | www.pointonenav.com
SPH Engineering | www.sph-engineering.com
Semtech | www.semtech.com
Sencrop | www.sencrop.com/uk
Telit | www.telit.com
Trimble Agriculture | https://agriculture.trimble.com
U-blox | www.u-blox.com
PUBLISHED IN CIRCUIT CELLAR MAGAZINE • MAY 2021 #370 – Get a PDF of the issueSponsor this Article
Jeff served as Editor-in-Chief for both LinuxGizmos.com and its sister publication, Circuit Cellar magazine 6/2017—3/2022. In nearly three decades of covering the embedded electronics and computing industry, Jeff has also held senior editorial positions at EE Times, Computer Design, Electronic Design, Embedded Systems Development, and COTS Journal. His knowledge spans a broad range of electronics and computing topics, including CPUs, MCUs, memory, storage, graphics, power supplies, software development, and real-time OSes.