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INTERNET OF THINGS: IT TAKES TWO (OR MORE) TO TANGO

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Every knowledge management initiative benefits from having a healthy and robust ecosystem that supports and enriches its functionality, but when the plan is centered on IoT, the ecosystem is both vital and complex. The key components of IoT are sensors, connectivity, data storage, and analytics—both at the edge and in the cloud. Success requires a combination of a vision about what the goals are and a well-integrated team of partners to achieve them. 

Among the top uses of IoT are industrial applications, smart city and smart farming strategies, telehealth, autonomous vehicles, and insurance. According to IDC, this market will experience growth of 11% per year through 2024. Statista predicts that the global market will reach $1.6 trillion by 2025, and that 75 billion connected devices will be in use by that time. 

Emerging Prairie is a nonprofit organization founded to promote entrepreneurship, innovation, and community in the Red River Valley region of North Dakota. A principal target was agriculture, which is one of the state’s three largest industries. “We saw that digital transformation in agriculture was just getting started,” said Brian Carroll, COO of Emerging Prairie, “and we believed we could accelerate its development.” The evolution of its IoT initiatives provides a good example of how numerous components can work together to produce a successful outcome. 

Grand Farm is the technology research institute of Emerging Prairie. It provides an environment in which precision farming projects can be set up and evaluated. The concept of precision farming is to use information and technology to make farming more productive, efficient, and profitable. Sensors and cameras provide information about soil quality, air temperature, and water, for example, to allow farmers to administer the correct amounts of fertilizer and irrigation. This data aids in determining when crops should be harvested, which in turn allows for the supply chain to be ready at the right time. 

The FarmGrid Precision Agriculture Solution was developed by Trilogy Networks and the Rural Cloud Initiative (RCI) to deliver a solution for farmers that seamlessly integrates precision agricultural equipment. Trilogy provides real-time edge computing and connectivity, while the RCI addresses the issue of connectivity in rural areas, where service is often limited and fragmented. “Autonomous tractors require cloud connectivity and ubiquitous reach across farmland,” pointed out Nancy Shemwell, COO of Trilogy Networks and RCI. “The country’s rural areas constitute 1.5 million square miles, much of which is underserved.” The RCI has partnered with many local internet service providers (ISPs) to create a more robust infrastructure. 

When the sensors have captured data and processed it at the edge, it is sent to a central location for further analysis. Trilogy opted for Zyter’s IoT platform to connect devices, perform analytics, and provide visualizations based on its rich feature set and ease of use. “In one demonstration, we put sensors in the ground, and 15 minutes later, the data was visible on the Zyter platform,” said Venky Swaminathan, CTO and co-founder of Trilogy. “The rules engines know what is optimal, so the system can also send back instructions to autonomous machinery to adjust the humidity in a greenhouse, for example.” 

Zyter integrates with nearly 300 applications from 190 partners, making it ideal for a highly heterogeneous environment. It is built as a set of modules to allow for flexibility. “Our focus is not just to connect our platform with the devices, but to achieve successful outcomes for our customers through AI-enabled analytics,” noted Srini Samudrala, senior vice president, IoT, at Zyter. 

The Zyter platform is the final step in producing a customer-facing dashboard or visualization from the large volume of data that is collected in a typical IoT application. IoT initiatives do not achieve their true purpose until they result in a desired outcome such as improved produce yields or a better-performing supply chain, observed Samudrala. 

Farmers do not traditionally have IT departments, so they need to rely on experts to address the practical aspects of configuring a smart farm. However, farmers can benefit just as much from technology as any other industry, so having a turnkey precision farming system has significant implications. Putting together all the required components is not an easy task; understanding the potential and then partnering with the right organizations are challenging but will pay off in the long term. 

According to MarketsandMarkets, the agricultural market for IoT will account for $18 billion by 2026. With continually increasing demand for food for the world’s growing population, and fewer people entering farming, the need for precision farming will remain strong. 

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