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Wide Rollout of IoT Soil-Moisture Sensors in the Works

Sensoterra is employing Kerlink's reference design to build LoRaWAN sensors that can be provided to farmers, horticulturists and landscapers with a real-time soil-moisture managing system to reduce water consumption, chemical needs, fuel and labor.
By Claire Swedberg

Some of Sensoterra's customers use the cloud-based sever, while others prefer to utilize an application programming interface to connect the data directly with their own management software. There, they can compare soil moisture with other information, such as weather data or information captured by drones regarding a crop's health. The software can also be linked to irrigation valve actuators in order to prompt automatic watering or shut that watering off. The system is designed for ease of use, Fraser-Boer says. Users can flip the sensors upside down to turn them on, then hammer them into the soil. The gateway will then begin capturing data, and users can access that information on their mobile phones within about an hour.

Rollouts of LaRaWAN solutions vary based on location. In some places, Boisgontier explains, such as in the Netherlands or India, a LoRaWAN connection is available across the countries so deployments are easier, while in other areas, Sensoterra installs gateways. Kerlink works with public service providers that offer 3G or 4G cellular connectivity who may want to apply LoRaWAN to their service, he says, as well as with private operators that are industry-specific "for customer use cases that might be deployed locally."

Kerlink's Guillaume Boisgontier
Sensoterra's solutions track soil-moisture data only, and the company finds that many of its customers use the soil-sensor system as the first foray into wider IoT solutions. "Once they have the system in place," Boisgontier says, "with a network, and sensors around the farm, you can add to that solution" with air temperature, light or any of hundreds of different types of sensors capturing unique data. Sensoterra sold approximately 4,000 sensors in 2018, but it expects the number to be between 8,000 and 10,000 this year, with the largest rollouts occurring during the third and fourth quarters with several large customers that have asked to remain unnamed.

For Kerlink, the goal is to provide the universal reference design for Sensoterra's sensors. "We are not a device maker, but the radio expert for companies that want to design their own LoRaWAN sensor," Boisgontier says. Kerlink's reference design has helped not only with radio transmission for global requirements, but also with battery optimization. Therefore, Sensoterra's customers will not have to wait for testing a prototype.

"What we are providing is a dedicated approach for each customer to design the device" according to its needs, Boisgontier says, while meeting the LoRa specification for each geographic location. In most parts of the world, Fraser-Boer adds, Sensoterra can now deliver the sensors required for a customer rollout within about two weeks. They are designed to be installed by a user within about 30 seconds per sensor.

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