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Ruggedised networks provide autonomy in precision farming

A protocol that gives autonomous adaptability – enabling the network to react in real-time to changes in network topology, load and environmental conditions – is desirable.
Read time 4min 00sec

In my last Industry Insight, I discussed agricultural network requirements and obstacles. In this final article in the series, I will discuss how best-practice ruggedised networks will help to provide autonomy in precision farming.

In article two – The road to precision farming – I looked at the step-by-step levels of automation that serve as a roadmap to the applications, functionality and agricultural benefits of introducing precision farming techniques of varying intensities. I’m now going to unpack the key network requirements for each of the first four levels.

Level one: Stationary autonomy

Key network requirement: High bandwidth to support the streaming of massive amounts of data and video collected from diverse sensors and monitoring applications.

The majority of traditional network infrastructures can sufficiently support applications that operate autonomously but in largely fixed locations, although operators must be mindful that the amount of data they need to collect will only continue to grow, and as it does, so must their network’s capacity.

Level two: Semi-autonomous machinery

Key network requirement: Signal resilience keeps operators in constant control over the systems they’re guiding, even as equipment moves around silos and large machinery that can block or interfere with signals.

Networks that dedicate frequencies to a single purpose, like LTE, have increased potential for slowed traffic and congestion because data can only travel one way to reach the application server. There is no way for it to route around node outages or interference.

This may be sufficient for delay-tolerant farming applications like smart eSilo monitoring, but creates a lack of resiliency to support real-time autonomy platforms.

Full redundancy for fail-proof connectivity

Networks that handle mission-critical applications, like the semi- and fully-autonomous systems used in farming today, must be designed with an awareness of the high stakes affiliated with downtime.

In the ideal scenario, the built-in redundancy of multiple connections would enable the network to uphold the level of reliability and resilience precision farming applications require, by increasing the capacity of every transceiver, with multiple transceivers providing multiple paths around interference, congestion and node outages.

Robust connectivity must be maintained within a network topology that is shifting from second to second.

The network would conduct continuous path switching of wireless and wired connections over the best available link, calculating the path that enables the fastest time to delivery in that moment.

If one path is not available or interference is identified, the information would be dynamically redirected over a redundant available path or paths to ensure it rapidly reaches its final destination.

Level three: Single-task autonomous fleets

Key network requirement: M2M connectivity via autonomous adaptability that enables equipment to remain in constant communication, to autonomously coordinate tasks among each other.

Traditional wireless networks assign peers based on the best paths found at the moment of evaluation, and those paths cannot be re-evaluated until the network is reset or an update command is sent.

This means there is no proactive syncing, which causes connectivity challenges in highly mobile and wide-ranging farming environments where nodes are continually moving between access points.

Autonomous adaptability

The network demands within today’s farming environments are constantly changing as equipment, vehicles and autonomous assets move over large stretches of rugged and remote acreage.

Robust connectivity must be maintained within a network topology that is shifting from second to second, but in traditional wireless infrastructures, a great deal of manual configuration and intervention is needed to make this possible.

A networking protocol that gives autonomous adaptability – enabling the network to react in real-time to changes in network topology, load and environmental conditions – is desirable.

Level four: Complex autonomous equipment

Key network requirement: Total mobility that supports mission-critical mobile connectivity to keep autonomous assets continually within coverage, no matter where they travel over vast farmlands.

The network needs to move with farm operations to drive industrial Internet of things capabilities and enable highly-mobile, highly-secure precision farming practices for any level of automation, including effective support for fully autonomous operations.

Unparalleled network mobility

The shortcomings of traditional network infrastructures, from their make-before-break approach to the level of manual intervention required to optimise performance, means they lack the agility to support the mission-critical mobility that fully autonomous farming applications demand.

A solution that can autonomously self-optimise itself enables a fully mobile network that upholds unwavering mobile connectivity in dynamically-changing farm environments. 

Teresa Huysamen

Head of the wireless and surveillance business unit, Duxbury Networking.

Teresa Huysamen is head of the wireless and surveillance business unit at Duxbury Networking. She has been part of the IT sector for the past 26 years – 15 of which have been at Duxbury – and is passionate about her role in the industry. As part of the product, marketing and sales cycle, she is focused on meeting customer needs with innovative technology.

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