To understand how a device the size of a large cellphone can help Ontario vineyard owners potentially save their crops from unseasonably cold weather, you would have to understand Internet of Things (IoT) technology.
IoT is the idea that everything that has an on and off switch can be connected to a network, in this case Bell’s LTE-E wireless network, expected to launch commercially this year. Once connected, devices – from coffee machines to smartphones – can work together to, for example, acknowledge traffic on your driving route and automatically send a text to your contacts to let them know you will be late. Or, in the case of Ontario’s vineyard owners, monitor the weather, notice temperatures are dipping below what grape vines can handle, and notify management so they can take steps to protect their plants.
While this technology may seem futuristic, a pilot project is currently underway at St. Catharines’ Henry of Pelham Family Estate Winery.
Ontario Premier Kathleen Wynne announced the pilot project in November, in partnership with Toronto’s BeWhere Technologies, an Industrial Internet of Things (IIoT) solutions company, China-based information and communications tech firm Huawei, and Bell Canada.
How the project works is, solar-powered environmental sensors with GPS locators are connected to Bell’s IoT network, which the company says offers better coverage underground and in other hard-to-reach locations. This allows the vineyard’s owner to remotely monitor temperature and water levels. When the data is received, the winery can automatically turn on fans to protect the health of its grapes.
“Unexpected adverse weather conditions can impact quality, yield and mortality of our crops,” Matthew Speck, owner/viticulturist of Henry of Pelham Family Estate Winery, explained in a release. “Bell’s solution will increase the density of our environmental monitoring. We’ll be able to automatically act on temperature inversions by turning on fans when temperatures change, ensuring the health of our grapes and an optimal product for our customers. The solution is not only economical and scalable, it gives growers a good view of the vines’ temperature needs to improve quality and drive sustainability.”
According to Bell, its new LTE-M network enables smart sensors to collect and send data over a wider range. The communications giant says its LTE-M infrastructure will support a broad range of large-scale IoT solutions, including smart city services, smart metering, home automation, transportation and logistics, and more.
This, of course, is just one use for IoT technology. It can be utilized in many other fields that aren’t typically thought of as being particularly high tech beyond agriculture, from detecting forest fires (monitoring combustion gases and pre-emptive fire conditions) to waste disposal (“smart” Dumpsters that tell waste collectors when they’re full).
In the meantime, Henry of Pelham owners and provincial officials have high hopes for the pilot project. The government says Ontario’s agri-food sector contributes more than $37.6 billion toward provincial GDP, and supports more than 807,000 jobs.
Lisa Day | Contributing Writer