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person sensor spargelSource: Bosch

Welcome to the world of agriculture. Or, better said, to the IoT in agriculture. Here, two worlds merge that previously didn’t have much in common. And yet the result has been very positive. Let me explain why and tell you about my experience in a corporate start-up in the agricultural domain. I have to admit, in my twelve years of professional experience, this was the first time I did anything with a start-up or with agriculture.

Because agriculture affects everyone’s life, at least it was easy for me to identify with the start-up’s vision: feed 9.1 billion people with sustainably produced healthy food by 2050. But how are we to go about achieving that? Which path should we take? And what’s all this about a corporate start-up?

Bosch is the perfect match for an IoT start-up

At Deepfield Robotics, we investigate promising ideas that could possibly contribute to our vision, e.g. automated field testing, robotics, and weeding. I ended up with the IoT topic, and after two weeks, I was astonished at how well the Bosch mothership could meet our technological needs. Not only could we choose from multiple Bosch divisions to provide us with a connectivity solution, but we could also use an in-house IoT platform. Thanks to all this support, we were able to run our first prototypes after three weeks of planning and internal negotiations and only three weeks of implementation. I have never seen a prototype put into action that fast before.

Getting to know the (asparagus) farmer

However, this shouldn’t overshadow the fact that this is when the hard work for our start-up actually begins. We had to learn how to best serve the farmers and their market. Yet this task is made easier when you have a minimal viable product, i.e. an initial prototype, already at hand.

We decided to jump right in by providing an IoT service for the asparagus farmer. I assume you’re not reading this blog to become an asparagus expert, so I’ll give you a brief introduction to our first IoT application. The quality of asparagus depends heavily on the temperature of the ground in which it’s grown. To control the temperature, farmers use a two-sided sheet of foil: the black side draws in sunlight to increase the heat of the asparagus bed, and the white side reflects light to cool the bed down. In order to make the right “black or white” decision, the farmer needs to measure the temperature of every field at least once each evening. That’s where we come in. Our IoT system frequently measures the temperatures of the bed at different levels and stores the data in the cloud. Then we provide this information plus additional analysis in a front-end interface, accessible anywhere, anytime.

Infographic showing how asparagus monitoring works.

The IoT is quite new to most of the farmers. And we know how they feel; this new customer group, “farmers,” is totally new to us, too. Therefore, we focused heavily on customer understanding and customer development in our first phase. Sure, you first have to have a basic idea of the problem you’re trying to solve. But once you have the right hardware and sensors in place at the customer’s side, the IoT magic comes into your business. Solutions in the IoT domain allow you to quickly improve your product in cooperation with the customer after delivering the hardware.

So that’s what we did. At the beginning of April, we installed ten prototypes in fields for seven farmers with the help of an asparagus advisor. These prototypes provided just the basic functionality of storing temperatures in the cloud. Using this as a starting point, we worked closely with the farmers to develop our solution further, based on many interviews with these pilot customers, four app updates and continuous back-end improvement. The result: twelve weeks later at the end of asparagus season, we had not only supervised the growth of 225,000 kg of asparagus, but also had gained some deep insights into our new customers.

With a little help from some agile friends

As I already mentioned, we built our prototype based on a robust connectivity solution and an easily scalable IoT platform from two Bosch divisions. But if you go with a big company like this, the support doesn’t need to end there. For example, we also received state-of-the-art expertise in user experience, insightful market studies, purchasing support, and much more – usually with just a single call. Along the way, we learned plenty about agility in a multibillion company.

But can so many different experts of a big company coordinated by a small start-up still do a great job? Yes! At least, that’s what the agricultural experts think: they presented us with a silver medal from the DLG innovations commission.

Setting the stage for many more agricultural IoT applications

Is asparagus worth all this effort? Well, from a gourmet perspective, certainly! From a business perspective, we have our sights set on much more than just asparagus; we aim to become a comprehensive supplier of IoT services in agriculture. We have already applied our market and customer knowledge to our platform, which is now ready for many other crops and services. As you might expect from a parent company that employs 360,000 people in 94 locations and that is the world’s largest MEMS sensor supplier with a clear IoT strategy, there is bound to be at least a couple of people who are thinking about IoT solutions for agricultural applications. So hopefully we can give back and speed such activities up by providing our platform and domain knowledge.

More on IoT in agriculture

Learn how the IoT will revolutionize agriculture.

Find out how The Yield drastically changes the way growers operate.

13 Comments

  • 21. April 2017 at 23:15

    Great Post Christian, Farming these days is reliant on having the right data in the right place at the right time…in other words in your hand when you need it…this app is pretty cool

    http://www.smartfarmsoftware.com/farm-management-pro/

    Reply
  • 16. November 2016 at 14:04

    thank
    you very much sir for your appreciation

    Reply
  • 27. October 2016 at 13:04

    I am very curious and want to be part of development of agriculture or farming in India.
    I want to start organisation which managed production, distribution and consumption of [agricultural] goods and services in very efficient manner.I want to use of technology like Iot (temparature and weather Sensers
    and other.devices),GPS technology.So respected sir I want your help in terms of technology,management,innovative way of transporting food grain etc.I want a vision to
    work further in right direction from you and your Company.

    Reply
    • 9. November 2016 at 10:28

      Dear Rishabh Kumar,

      thank you very much for your kind words. I am quite sure that your country is coming with great chances for the agricultural IoT topic. As every development your journey should start at the customer side. Farming, as you described it and we are currently looking into, developed quite locally. It already differs between north and south parts of Germany and for sure it will be totally different in India. So the things I can advise here are limited, not to say nothing :). However you might want to take Alexander Osterwalders book on “Value Proposition Design” with you on your journey. As soon as you found a problem that fits, answers with respect to the appropriate technology will become more obvious. And innovation (=invention + commercialization, as I see it) will become a bit easier.

      Kind regards
      Christian

      Reply
  • 27. October 2016 at 6:10

    First of all I want to thank you for nice project in an auspicious and an very important field that’s agriculture and farming .it will effectively improve good quality of production in efficient manner (it also keep account of fertility of soil as your project includes how much fertilizer needs,and also how much water.
    So sir your project curb very much amount of cost of growing crop and maintenance,I am belong to india where cost of production increases very much because of insufficient information,here in India there is large amount of water especially where I belong there is very much amount of water and fertile soil but there is no efficient use of these resources
    Because of farms divided in small sizes and farming is also done by traditional methods.
    So production is very less as compare to cost of total investing.

    Reply
  • 20. August 2016 at 5:59

    Hi christian,

    I am so impressed with your study and also I was looking for insights for agricultural IoT.
    I’d love to learn about it and become a part of other projects.

    Reply
  • 21. April 2016 at 17:40

    Great post……the article is well informative and educative thanks. Women in Farming

    Reply
  • 1. December 2015 at 2:03

    Hi Christian,

    This was is a fascnating and insightful article. I have highlighted some parts of IoT product development that i had not considered. I live in a rural part of England and see many opportunities for IoT to help farmers. However, I never knew it could play such a big part with growing Asparagus.

    Is there a way I can contact you about showcasing some of what you discussed on my blog and a future podcast?
    Kwad.

    Reply
    • 1. December 2015 at 9:05

      Sure, I will send you an email.

      Kind regards
      Christian

      Reply
  • 18. November 2015 at 10:46

    Hi Christian,
    I just read the article and it sounds nice project. I am sure this project is going to shine where agriculture sector contributes major portion in the economy like India, China and South America . I would like to address some of the challenges related to this project like,;
    1. Power
    2. standardisation
    3.Security
    Kind Regards
    Sukhdeep singh

    Reply
    • 23. November 2015 at 9:54

      Dear Sukhdeep Singh,

      thanks for sharing your thoughts. You mentioned some quite interesting markets.

      Reply
  • 16. November 2015 at 9:19

    Hello Christian,

    great article and well done.

    Kind regards
    Thorsten Bux

    Reply

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