Internet of Tomatoes: IoT in Agriculture

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This article is part of a series of articles that showcase the real world applications of IoT.

Tomatoes grown in New England, in the US,  typically do not taste as good as those grown in other parts of the world. In an attempt to find out why this is so, Analog Devices Inc. (ADI) started a project called IoT or the Internet of Tomatoes in addition to tackling some of the areas where farmers can benefit from IoT and/or analytics.

The project employed Micro-ElectroMechanical Systems (MEMS) and sensors to determine if environmental factors are the primary reason for this. This and other applications of the Internet of Things are outside the commonly known use-cases such as driverless cars and smart cities, which are what have been covered in previous blogs.

Conceptually, it is the same and employs sensors, videos etc., which generate large volumes of data that get analysed real time or near real time and the insights inform the subsequent steps.

SO HOW DOES IoT ACTUALLY WORK IN AGRICULTURE?

Common sense suggests that there should be several applications of data and technology in farming and agriculture. Some of the areas that agriculturists find particularly useful are temperature or rather what is refered to as heat accumulation. This data transmitted via sensors is designed to capture the accumulation of heat using the average daily maximum and minimum temperature, which determines when harvesting would take place. In addition, data regarding pest attack, i.e. when beetles and other insects are likely to attack also help farmers plan their strategy to circumvent this issue.

Very often, agriculturists like their counterparts in other fields rely on their gut while planning vital operations. Sensor data is used to help farmers plan an optimum time to carry out the harvesting would then ensure that the crop is ready and the value generated is maximised.

Study of the IoT data has shown that the tomatoes are not quite as tasty as some others because the content of sugar and salt is not optimum. It was found that the tomatoes that are grown in the New England area has a different chemical composition when compared to their tastier counterparts grown in Italy, for instance.

It was found that the fructose/glucose and salt content were different. However, to the naked eye, both appeared to be the same and this difference could only be determined through a chemical analysis. In addition, lycopene, which defines both the quality and the colour of the tomato is also another factor that needs to be considered while analysing the tomatoes. In the testing phase, actual analysis of the composition of tomatoes in the labs was permissible; this would not be possible on a daily basis.

In the end, the solution to the chemical composition question was a new age device that employed an optical technique using infrared technology to determine the quality and taste of the tomatoes.

This data is constantly determining the quality of the tomatoes and whether it would serve as a raw material for ketchup, which was low in value generation for the farmer or be suitable for sale at a supermarket.

THE FUTURE FOR SMART AGRICULTURE

As IoT as a technology grows and matures and the analysis of this data improves, it has the potential to be ubiquitous and integrated in most areas of our lives. Applications like this one has the potential to transform life for many, especially, if affordability and durability concerns of sensors can be addressed and if access to the internet can be provided to all. It will be exciting to see how technologies such as this can be leveraged for all in the days to come.

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susanSusan Mani, Analytics Expert
Susan is a seasoned analytics professionals with over 10 years of experience working on analyses for Fortune 500 clients such as Bank of America, Proctor & Gamble, and Unilever among others. She is on the Alumni Advisory Board of the University of Cambridge, and is an expert in the practical aspects of applying analytics in different contexts to generate value.