Atlanta Seeks IoT Innovators for Agtech Solutions

The IoT.ATL AgTech Challenge is accepting applications from Internet of Things and agriculture technology startups for a 12-month project to address food shortages and costs in urban areas.
Published: October 8, 2018

The City of Atlanta, Ga., with a consortium of local private and public organizations, is hosting a one-year Internet of Things (IoT) technologies project aimed at meeting food demands in urban areas, through the innovation of technology startups. The IoT.ATL AgTech Challenge has begun accepting applications from IoT companies to spend a year developing solutions for food resilience in Atlanta, with the aim of identifying technologies that could scale throughout Atlanta and to other cities.

The group will accept applications from startup companies through Nov. 2, 2018. The project is being sponsored by the city, along with Invest Atlanta, the Metro Atlanta Chamber, the Atlanta BeltLine, Georgia Power and agriculture equipment manufacturer AGCO Corp. Six applicants will be selected to participate in the pilot, each of which will be offered a 20-foot trailer as a living lab on the Atlanta BeltLine (a 22-mile loop of walking and biking trails connecting the city’s 45 neighborhoods). The containers are provided by AGCO.

Cynthia Curry

The challenge’s goal, according to Cynthia Curry, the Metro Atlanta Chamber’s IoT ecosystem expansion director, is to accelerate and support urban agricultural technology (agtech) solutions to benefit economic development, cultural expression and health, especially among low-income residents and families. That means finding ways to provide fresh produce and other food throughout the city, including in areas considered “food deserts,” in which residents lack easy access to healthy food.

The selected proposals could provide environmental benefits and yields increases, such as by growing more produce with fewer resources, or by redefining land and space usage—via vertical farming, for instance. They should also be scalable solutions. Additionally, they could provide greater transparency in food production, Curry says, adding, “The possibilities are endless, and we won’t know what agtech innovation will result until we evaluate the applicants.”

IoT systems already on the market include soil and environmental sensors, weather stations and cameras to track conditions in fields, such as the over- or under-use of water or chemicals, or the presence of pests, as well as livestock sensors to monitor the health, activity and yield of animals. However, no animal-based solutions are being used as part of this challenge.

Moreover, drone systems are being deployed to track crop yields, disease, field health and other conditions (see Cattle Ranching Gains from IoT-based Intelligence, New Zealand Farm Cuts Water and Energy Consumption With IoT, IoT Agricultural Specialist Helps Australian Nursery Become More Profitable and RFID Goes Out to Pasture, Matching Ewes With Lambs).

The challenge is aimed not at existing solutions and large technology companies, but rather at new innovations and solutions created via the collaboration of startups. The group expects submissions to come from IoT startups, as well as from agtech companies or collaborative groups of such businesses. In some cases, Curry says, a group may team several companies with independent applications, in order to develop a combined solution. Additionally, she says, “The judges will take a look at matchmaking,” finding potential clients or partners in the agtech market that might want to work with the innovators.

Applicants are expected to hail from across the United States, as well as globally. They will be selected based on the readiness of their solutions, their ability to solve a problem in the agriculture market, their level of innovation, their focus on community and the business model they bring.

Once the 12-month project is complete, Curry says, those that have a viable solution they would like to continue developing or marketing can continue to enter the procurement process to develop and deploy their system with the City of Atlanta as a client. The IoT.ATL AgTech Challenge group will review the results of all six projects for lessons learned. “Agtech is a huge market [that is] reaching over $10 billion in 2017 and growing,” Curry states.

The challenge, according to Curry, is the first in a series of living labs the city expects to undertake during the coming years that are centered around IoT-based solutions for city-wide challenges involving equity and inclusion. “Our goal is to make Atlanta a hub of IoT and smart-city innovations,” she explains, “and to connect with our community about how technology and IoT can improve lives.” The trends they examine, she notes, focus on technology testbeds to solve these issues.

The IoT.ATL AgTech Challenge launched on Sept. 26. The group expects to receive approximately 60 applications from technology companies, from or groups of companies. The six winning applications will be announced following the Nov. 2 deadline, and the projects are slated to be launched prior to Super Bowl LII, which will be held on Feb. 3, 2019, in Atlanta.