11-06-2021 | By Robin Mitchell
Recently, an initiative from the police in Wales was announced that aims to protect farmers using IoT technologies. What challenges do farmers present, how will the initiative work, and what does this demonstrate about LoRa?
Despite popular belief, the agricultural industry is arguably the single most important in the world. Computers are important and can process data, automotive can get us from one place to another quickly, but the farming industry is responsible for the absolute fundamentals such as food and clothes. As such, it is essential that governments around the world protect the agricultural industry, especially when considering that the farming sector is well known for being difficult with low-profit margins.
Those who have not lived in the countryside or been involved with farmers will often be surprised when they hear how often farmers have to deal with criminals. Some criminals will target farming equipment that can sell for hundreds of thousands of dollars (see combine harvesters), while others will use their land to illegally dump waste (there is a great clip on YouTube of a land owner returning 400 tyres dumped on his land to the dumper).
Unlike shops that can be easily protected with IoT cameras and sensors, farms are often very large (in excess of 10 acres), and this makes installing wired sensors next to impossible. The challenge of installing protection systems is further complicated when considering that many farms are far larger than the range of most commercially available wireless solutions such as Bluetooth and Wi-Fi. To make matters even more complex, there are many areas in the countryside that lack even cellular reception.
Such crimes cannot continue to happen, and expecting farmers to be responsible for their security is unfair. Recognising the advances in modern technology, police in Wales are turning to IoT and LoRa as a solution for protecting farmers from criminals.
With one in five farmers being victims of crime in 2020, the police will be launching a trial whereby farmers can deploy battery-powered smart sensors that use the LoRaWAN network. Unlike Wi-Fi and Bluetooth, LoRa uses much lower frequencies (typically 433MHz), which makes it more akin to walkie-talkies. While LoRa offers much lower data rates of around 20kbps, the use of lower frequency radio waves combined with its low data rate enables it to have an extremely long range of up to 10km while being suitable for battery operation. The frequencies used by LoRa are free for the public to use, but the protocol used by LoRaWAN is proprietary.
Thanks to the Welsh government has invested in LoRaWAN, the police will be connecting the smart sensors used by farmers to an app that will detect unauthorised access to their land. From there, the detected individuals can be tracked by the police and apprehended.
The ability for LoRaWAN to operate at a great distance combined with its ability to work with battery operate devices clearly makes it ideal for IoT applications where power sources are limited and distances between sensors are vast. However, this also means that LoRaWAN will not be suitable for applications that require large bandwidth, and as such, any device using LoRaWAN will be limited to sending simple data packets and image stills.
But the use of LoRaWAN goes beyond farms and large fields; any application that involves great distance and basic sensors can take advantage of LoRaWAN. For example, smart cities with parking sensors would be an ideal candidate for LoRaWAN as such sensors merely record the presence of a vehicle. Smart cities could also utilise LoRaWAN in monitoring services such as water and gas which could be used to detect flow and leaks. Such data is not required to be constantly streamed which could help reduce power consumption, and the ability for low-frequency radio waves to diffract around corners potentially enables such sensors to operate in service corridors (i.e. underground tunnel spaces).