New mobile robot method can bring IoT to the great outdoors

15 Jul 2015

A new concept proposal by internet of things (IoT) researchers in the US could bring the technology to the great outdoors, with the help of a series of low-power sensors and a data-gathering robot.

While IoT infrastructure development has for some time now been heralded as a means of creating smart, interconnected cities, its range as a concept is not limited to concrete and high-speed broadband.

The agriculture sector, in particular, is seen as one of the areas that could benefit the most from adopting IoT technology and now a team of researchers has developed a novel and very affordable approach that could make farms ultra-efficient.

In a paper posted to arXiv, the team, comprised of researchers from MIT, Harvard, the University of Washington and Duke University, proposed combining two solutions used to monitor vast areas of land that have previously been considered too expensive, making it ultra-cheap.

According to IEEE Spectrum, this new method of gathering land data would be a joint effort between an array of ultra-high radio-frequency identification (UHF RFID) tags and a mobile robot, either in the form of a drone or land-based, wheeled robot.

IoT robot and UHF RFID sensor

IoT robot and UHF RFID sensor. Image via ArXiv

Until now, either of these methods would have to be chosen: an RFID Array would be costly to set up and require large amounts of power, while a mobile robot would be time-consuming and equally expensive to operate.

Under the new method, a robot would be able to roam around a field, say, and actively gather soil data from UHF RFID sensors that are only activated when in the proximity of the robot, making it an ultra-low power array compared with one that sends by Bluetooth, for example.

Because the UHF RFID sensors contain only a microchip and antenna, it only receives power once connected via the robot’s signal, meaning it can effectively run indefinitely once it receives power from the robot and, most importantly, it’s literally ‘dirt cheap’, costing about 10c per sensor.

It is then up to the farmer or researcher to log the GPS coordinates of their sensors and send the robot on its way.

However, the team’s testing has shown that it is still some way off from bringing it to full optimisation, with the two biggest issues being that he UHF RFID tags require the robot to be within 1.2 metres or else they won’t work.

Also, its drone-robot data gatherer was found to be pretty inefficient when it was attempting to passively gather information, but its ground-based robot was shown to be more accurate two-thirds of the time.

Watering a field image via Shutterstock

Colm Gorey was a senior journalist with Silicon Republic