Over the past decade, there has been much curiosity and discussion about ubiquitous or ultra-wideband (UWB) communications as it relates to agriculture. So many questions are being asked: How will UWB impact agriculture? Will it revolutionize agriculture? Can a new technology, such as UWB, deliver what is needed for success in agriculture now and into the future?
One of the main uses for UWB is in agriculture. There are specific, well-defined use cases that have been identified by work done to date and some of those will be highlighted. A tremendous amount of effort has been put forth over many years to define the requirements for agricultural communications as a basis for its own industry standard.
Using UWB for agricultural applications now and in the near term will help growers to be more efficient, allowing them to increase yields and overall profits by improving precision agriculture.
UWB will help improve and provide new capabilities for yield mapping. This is a technology that is already available to farmers in the form of yield-mapping equipment (e.g., PrimeTime + RTK from Deere & Company). Yield mapping has been around for many years, but there are still challenges in using equipment today that can cause growers to miss out on learning about opportunities they could be taking advantage of each year.
Yield mapping often requires multiple passes by sensors or instruments. In some cases, it may require two weeks or more to collect all of the data necessary for adequate determination of yields at one location. This is not practical for most growers or even agronomists.
At the same time, new data sources are available to help improve yield measurement and mapping capabilities, giving growers more opportunities than ever before. For instance, weather stations can now be used as a source of yield-determining data. In addition, industry experts are using satellite imagery that combines field boundaries with crop sensing information from satellites to improve yield maps.
Real-Time Locating Systems
Real-time locating systems (RTLS) are also being used to determine yields more accurately. RTLS offers the ability for farmers and agronomists to measure and compare actual versus predicted crop growth in near real-time by providing immediate access to information about yield at a specific geographic location.
RTLS is used to capture yield data in many dimensions and provides farmers access to digital information about their fields, enabling decisions based on science rather than guesswork.
Another example of using UWB in agriculture relates to precision agriculture utilizing RTK-GPS. Current systems operate at L band (1 GHz) and this bandwidth has served agriculture well over the past decade. However, there is concern that this spectrum will soon be crowded and congested due to large numbers of private- and government-owned systems that operate on these frequencies.
UWB offers the possibility of extending precision agriculture to higher bandwidths, and eventually into the VHF spectrum (150 MHz), freeing up space in lower bands for new applications while maintaining backward compatibility with current technology.
It is also important to note that UWB offers a tremendous advantage over existing systems. Typically, one RTK base station is required per field to provide location information for all harvesting equipment. With UWB, multiple base stations can share data simultaneously through wireless links between those base stations connected via an IP network or central control point such as a smart phone or tablet in a vehicle traveling around the field. This allows more precise location tracking and reduces costs by sharing base stations throughout a defined area.
UWB also works for wireless communications. Wireless communications has tremendous implications in agriculture, as farmers are often using self-propelled equipment such as tractors and combine harvesters. Providing flexibility and freedom from needing fixed base station antennas will help both farmers and manufacturers of agricultural sensors or instruments to reduce costs while improving precision on the farm.
UWB will enable GPS-like capabilities outdoors without line of sight via RF technologies operating at higher frequencies above 1 GHz. Many of these applications could be applied to precision agriculture with great benefit because GPS does not work well indoors or underground (e.g., silos) due to blockages from concrete or other materials.
UWB can also provide improved security in the field. For example, UWB tags could be hidden or embedded within farm equipment. These could include a UWB tag that provides location information on tractors and combines moving around a field or even UWB tagging of livestock to improve management functions such as tracking individual animals for better understanding of their movement patterns.
The tags would not have to be visible (as are UWB sensors used for control line mapping) and they would offer nearly unlimited battery life while maintaining accurate timing signals—marking an important advantage over RFID technologies that typically require frequent re-tagging due to power constraints from battery sources.
Similarly, UWB sensors hidden in livestock equipment could provide location information to researchers or animal caretakers for extensive monitoring of movement patterns.
The UWB Future in Agriculture
There have been numerous demonstrations of the applications that are possible with UWB—including precision agriculture. What is needed next is the standardization and implementation of these new wireless methods for specific business uses to take place within agriculture. For example, a group of companies interested in mapping genetic material and developing efficient ways to distribute seeds may benefit from being involved with industry standards development groups so that their technology can be developed and expanded for use by farmers who want to efficiently grow crops through enhanced knowledge and monitoring capabilities.
UWB will certainly revolutionize how growers monitor their fields, harvest their crops, verify delivery, process payments, track inventory and manage production cycles. In addition to enabling newer applications across the gamut of farming activities, UWB will also enhance safety and efficiency through better management of equipment and livestock—improving the profitability of farm operations in the process.
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