Verizon buys Sensity and launches farm pilot with sensor tech

Carrier's Internet of Things program is expanding

Verizon has been busy building a diverse Internet of Things (IoT) portfolio that includes sensors used on farms as well as on city streets.

On Monday, the wireless carrier announced it is buying Sensity Systems for an undisclosed sum.

Sensity, based in Sunnyvale, Calif., has focused on using energy-efficient LED lighting to help cities build an IoT platform on city streetlights. The platform can include the use of various sensors on a streetlight pole to monitor weather and city services ranging from parking to public safety.

Last year, Sensity began work with Cisco in Kansas City, Mo. to install LED streetlights that can be dimmed for precise ambient light conditions; the system is estimated to eventually save that city $4 million a year.

Last week, Verizon announced an IoT pilot with The Chef's Garden. The Milan, Ohio farm grows hundreds of varieties of specialty produce sold direct to chefs around the world.

chefs garden Verizon

Verizon has installed a weather station at The Chef’s Garden to monitor weather and moisture conditions to more precisely measure the water needed by vegetables that are sold to gourmet chefs.

On the 300-acre specialty farm, Verizon has installed a weather station to measure local data in the field. Sensor probes have been placed in select locations to measure soil moisture and temperature. There's also a temperature sensor focused at the tip of some plants to see how much stress a plant is under from heat and light and how much water is needed for precise irrigation.

The flavors of some varieties of produce are affected by stress from too much heat or a lack of water. With the help of sensors, the farm can supply water only where needed and can save energy by not pumping excess water from the ground. Workers also save time when they don't need to check on water needs.

Data from the various sensors is sent over Verizon's wireless network to the cloud where it is analyzed. With tools such as PostgreSQL -- an open source database -- and the Python programming language, Verizon can graphically depict moisture conditions. Farmers can see that graphical information on iPads that they carry into the fields. They can then regulate the water being applied via drip irrigation to the roots of the plants.

"We release water at the proper time because we are able to count and measure the heat units needed to produce a crop," said Lee Jones, who works with his father and brother to manage the farm with the help of about 160 team members. (Jones goes by the name 'Farmer' Lee Jones, claiming Farmer as his title.)

Jones is well known in the artisan farming movement as the farmer who wears bib overhauls over a white collared shirt topped by a red bowtie.

Lee Jones - Chef's Garden Verizon

Farmer Lee Jones works with others on The Chef’s Garden, a sustainable farm near Lake Erie in Ohio. The farm is using sensors to detect soil moisture and other environmental readings to manage water usage.

Chefs from restaurants as far away as Hong Kong will request a certain squash or squash flower, or lettuce that has grown to a certain height. "The market drives what we do," Jones said in an interview.

The farm has produced more than 800 varieties of vegetables and is well known for eight different squash varieties planted 15 different times a year. Lettuce is planted 52 times a year. Sometimes a chef will request petite lettuce or petite carrots that are only 1.5 inches long.

Verizon's sensor technology has been in place for about two months with a laboratory set up in an old semi-tractor trailer. "In the past, we've watered through intuition," Jones said. "But the technology verifies if our intuition is on or off a little, so it's more precise. It's very exciting to see the possibilities. This will revolutionize agriculture. This can really help on the small farm scale.

"This is sustainability on a small scale," he said. "There's a revolution going on."

Verizon has also partnered with ITK, a crop modeling company, to work with three California vineyards on irrigation management.

Copyright © 2016 IDG Communications, Inc.

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