To accelerate development of new sensors for the Internet of Agri-things, and tackle issues such as rural crimes including sheep-rustling, Norfolk and Suffolk County Councils have laid the UK’s first free Innovation Network of internet gateways spanning across rural East Anglia.
“If they find an isolated area where the sheep are penned, they literally cut off the head, the hooves, throw the bodies into the van and drive off…” former video producer Kate de Vries learned from Nottinghamshire Constabulary something of the range of rural crimes that county were fighting. But as cases of organised sheep rustling rise in the UK, de Vries, now an Economic Development Officer at Norwich County Council, sees herself as part of the solution.
“You can build or buy a sensor to monitor almost anything – movement, vibration, sound, air quality, GPS – these are small, low cost devices that feed back to the owner via long range radio waves,” de Vries explains.
Internet of Agri-Things
These diverse sensors, which together make up the Internet of Things (IoT), have the potential to revolutionise agriculture by transmitting live data to their owners, but they require nearby receiver ‘gateways’ in order to get their message across.
To bring all sensors in the region online, throughout rural East Anglia, Norfolk and Suffolk County Councils, in partnership with the New Anglia LEP, have combined to build a region-wide network of gateways, available free of charge to anybody.
“The network has big potential to protect the farming community from theft,” says de Vries. “For example, by installing a movement sensor upon the farm gate, linking to an infra-red camera on the road, attempts to enter the sheep field could be recorded and sent live to the land owner.”
The Norfolk and Suffolk Innovation Network is being rolled out as we speak. Norfolk is now about 50% covered. A formal launch is taking place on 15th September, and will allow anybody in the region to create a sensor array at low cost and connect it to the network free of charge.
“This is a huge boost for technologists to get local projects up and running,” de Vries continues, “you can go to your business client – to the local farm – and you can demonstrate to that client how your sensor technology works, rather than having to build your own network of gateways in advance. The IoT Innovation Network is just one aspect of Norfolk County Council’s ambition to make Norfolk the best connected rural county within the country.”
Free and easy to get connected
“The Innovation Network represents a wonderful opportunity,” agrees David Whattoff, MD of METOS UK, who supply sensors used by Ben Burgess. Carl Pitelen of Ben Burgess noted that the Innovation Network was “really easy to install and set up”. Ben Burgess are working with one potato farmer, for example, with soil based sensors picking up a range of data including rain and weather data, for disease monitoring and control. Previously data had to be collected manually, now the weather stations tick away returning information every 15 minutes via the gateway installed on Norfolk County Council’s County Hall headquarters.
The Innovation Network, which was set up following a successful bid for £440,000 from the New Anglia Local Enterprise Partnership (LEP), is intended to help digital companies in Norfolk and Suffolk to launch new products at lower cost and risk to themselves.
However Kate de Vries is keen to point out that farmers and land owners are also free to use the network to solve problems directly themselves.
“What we’re saying is, this is a prototyping network – anybody can play with it – access to the network is free of charge and sensors can be purchased at very low cost from various local suppliers.”