The “things” of the internet permeates all types of industries, including agriculture. Sensors collect data on everything from soil-moisture levels to irrigation pump performance to water levels in wells and stock tanks. Making that data actionable requires either a visual inspection or a wireless transmission over a costly — and sometimes spotty — cellular network.

Waverly startup SmallData Tech has set its sights on a more reliable, much less costly approach using a packet radio transmission network.

“We’re able to do all this stuff without spending exorbitant amounts of money just for internet access,” said CEO Neil Johnson. “We use our own packet radio backbone.”

SDT’s technology has the potential for a wide range of applications and locations. In the near term, the company’s focus is ag tech, in areas with limited internet service options, primarily Nebraska and western Kansas for the 2018 growing season.

“We’re focused on areas without direct internet access, where wifi isn’t strong enough, where a cell signal isn’t strong or is cost-prohibitive,” said chief operating officer Matt Bergmeyer.

The SDT solution incorporates an international specification called LoRaWAN, which provides a standard for wireless, battery-operated devices. LoRaWAN transmits small amounts of data farther than wifi, and much cheaper than cellular. It’s currently used extensively in Europe and somewhat in the eastern U.S.

“Before long, LoRaWAN will be everywhere,” Johnson said. “But no one will compete in flyover states because of the lack of density.”

SDT is working both with public agencies and private companies to deploy its solution, which includes the “things” as well as the network.

One example of the hardware SDT has developed is an audio analyzer for irrigation pumps.

“The audio analyzer listens to the pump, whether it’s on or off, listens to the electronic signature for changes that mean something might be going bad, and transmits the data,” Bergmeyer said. “Right now, you might have to drive 10 miles to check it. Basically, anything that needs a toddler to look at it, this saves a trip.”

Antennas placed at the edge of fields or at wellheads have a range of up to 10 miles, operate on rechargeable batteries hooked to a solar panel and don’t require line of sight. They pick up and transmit signals from any device within range.

Data is transmitted through a multi-hop, packet radio network until it’s ultimately connected to an internet service provider and sent to SDT headquarters. From there, the data is packaged and sent to the user through an application programming interface.

“We push it out through a web API to whatever device they’re using,” Johnson said. “It doesn’t matter.”

Pressure to streamline crop and livestock production, as well as water-use regulations, makes it increasingly critical to have timely and reliable data.

“Water needs change depending on where a crop is in the growing process,” Bergmeyer said. “And if there’s an irrigation well across the street from a housing development, you don’t want to crank up your pivot and have 20 neighbors pumping sand.”

Most of the applications SDT supports involve grain production, but there is utility for the livestock industry as well.

“We’re automating the daily logs you have to do for livestock production,” Bergmeyer said. “It becomes particularly onerous when the end market comes in to do an audit. With this app, you push a button and data is compiled on things like when you checked the fence line or how you disposed of a dead carcass.”

SDT has put together info packets, and a website is under development. The technical team is drawn from Phoenix Web Group, a software-development company Johnson has operated for many years. PWG has been working on similar projects in the past.

“We’ve been working down this road for the last nine years,” he said. “We’ve gone incognito until recently.”

Source: Lincoln Journal Star