The Internet of Things is in the sea. More specifically, it's in an Oyster farm in Hobart. And we have The Yield, Microsoft, Bosch and Intel to thank.
Oysters are filter animals, taking in whatever — good or bad — is in the water. If there's been a lot of rain flooding into the estuaries where oysters grow, they can quickly pick up contaminants that could make you very, very sick. Farmers and regulators obviously want to avoid that at all costs — and so when there is even the slightest risk, oyster farms have to close until conditions improve.
Mortality Syndrome is a disease which affects Pacific Oysters, and has been causing havoc in the Tasmanian oyster industry — where losing a day's harvest can mean a loss of $120,000 in revenue. Barilla Bay Oysters, for example, lost 70 percent of its harvest to the disease in February, crippling its operations.
Until now there has been a reliance on rainfall gauges to assess risk, and the results are often inaccurate — around 30 per cent of closures based on rainfall gauge readings are in fact unwarranted — the water quality and the oysters are actually fine.
So there's a problem. You don't want to make people sick with dodgy oysters, but you also don't want to lose $120,000 a day in revenue. Technology to the rescue!
Ag-tech business The Yield, working with Microsoft, Intel and Bosch is getting deep into data to better predict Mother Nature's effect on Oyster yields. Along with the Tasmanian Government and oyster farmers in 14 of the State's estuaries, The Yield is deploying a new system that kicks the rainfall gauge to the curb, using in-estuary sensors, cloud computing and machine learning.
It works by relaying data from in-estuary sensors via an Intel gateway to Bosch's ProSyst software, where it is then ingested into Microsoft's IoT hub in the Microsoft Azure cloud alongside national weather data.
Environmental data and near real time sensor data is combined and presented to oyster growers and regulators so they can make more accurate decisions faster. They've made it look pretty, too. There are dashboard visualisations for the previous week, for today and for tomorrow. Microsoft Azure Machine Learning is used to drive the predictive algorithms for the app.
While salinity measurement is clearly important in terms of identifying contamination risks, water temperature is equally critical in order to assess the risk of the POMS virus which can devastate oyster farms unless effectively managed. And, knowing that there is bad weather ahead, when it might be hard for crews to get out in the boats to harvest oysters, means oyster farmers are able to fine tune their rosters — again shaving cost and boosting efficiencies.
Ros Harvey, founder and CEO of The Yield explains that the underlying technologies could also have much broader implications for farming generally — for example allowing crop growers to know exactly when and how to irrigate. "We actually have a really clear purpose which is how we're going to help feed the world without wrecking the planet," she says.
To do that farmers and industry regulators need access to accurate, reliable and current data to support their decision making. The Yield's technology gives growers new insight so that they can make better decisions faster.
Harvey says that Australia has a very strong global reputation for both agricultural innovation and food quality and safety. To maintain and grow that reputation, and also tackle some of the high costs associated with farming in Australia, she believes it is essential to make better use of smart technologies and data collected at every stage of the farming process.
While the initial deployment of the solution, which integrates technology from Bosch, Microsoft and Intel, has been focused on the oyster industry, Harvey says that its platform technology has been designed for the much broader agriculture and aquaculture market.
To support the diverse application of its solutions The Yield has built application programming interfaces to its platform to allow researchers to take data feeds that can build knowledge and also provide a rapid pathway to commercialisation.
While based in Australia, The Yield has global ambitions. Using Microsoft's Cloud as the technology foundation for the system will allow the solution to be rolled out internationally.
And while it may never tame Mother Nature, it may help the world's farmers at least understand her moods.