Wireless Sensor Networks in Agriculture

January 3, 2020 Cadence PCB Solutions

Wireless internet of things devices in front of green crops

 

My grandfather farmed for a living and my dad carries on the passion of farming as a hobby. Somehow, the interest of growing and tending to plants was never implanted in my genes. The last time I tried gardening, it ended up in a mess.

It’s amazing how farmers have tended to huge areas of crops for decades. It’s a huge responsibility for the farmers as the crops eventually end up as a source of food at someone’s dining table. I was not blessed with any knowledge or talent for farming, but I do realize how a simple oversight can ruin the entire harvest. 

How Wireless Sensor Network Is Transforming Agriculture?

By 2050, the world population will increase by 34%, according to the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nation. With an estimated 9.1 billion of global citizens, the estimated consumption of food will increase by 70%. 

A drastic increase in food demand will stretch agriculture production to the limit. This means that traditional farming methods will no longer suffice to keep up with the pace of the food demand. In recent years, the emergence of the Internet of Thing (IoT) technologies has proven useful for agriculture.

Beyond the trendy term of IoT is the use of sensors, controller and a GUI to monitor and control smart appliances. In agriculture, it involves using a wireless sensor network to ensure parameters like humidity, temperature, wind, soil moisture, and other critical parameters are transferred in real-time to farm operators. 

The multiple sensors reduce the risk of the crops being damaged to environmental changes, and to make farming more efficient. As a result, productivity increase while cost decrease when implementing IoT in modern farms.

Challenges In Implementing Wireless Sensor Network In Agriculture

On paper, the notion of transforming the agriculture industry with a wireless sensor network seems easy. However, challenges start popping up once the application is implemented in the field.

The power source of the sensor nodes needs to be long-lasting as they are often placed in isolation on the farm. This means bringing down the power consumption of the sensor node while ensuring a significant coverage of its communication module. It will be impractical if batteries on the sensors are to be replaced within months as there may be hundreds of them spread over a vast area on the farm.

 

Battery connotating charge status of an electronic device

The power source of the wireless sensor determines its durability in the field.

 

Cost is a critical factor when implementing a wireless sensor network in agriculture. Depending on the number of sensor nodes, hardware costs may balloon drastically. Some farmers may not be ready to adopt the technology if it proves to be not financially viable.

The whole idea of having a wireless sensor network is to enable real-time viewing of the parameters. Having a good internet connection is crucial to remotely access the data collected from the sensors. However, some farms may not have good connectivity and this could prove to be a major hurdle for IoT in agriculture.

Getting Wireless Sensor Design Right

As a PCB designer, you could play a part in modernizing the agriculture industry. The basics of IoT are the individual wireless sensor. These sensors need to be precise and durable. In other words, signal integrity and power-saving design are mandatory.

The wireless sensors usually operate in sleep mode, where they are interrupted after a specific duration to scan the parameters and relay the information to the central controller. You’ll want to minimize the current consumption both during the sleep mode and when it’s actively transmitting. Avoid unnecessary components, such as resistors or LEDs that may drain current when it’s idle. 

 

Box with LED display saying no signal

Transmission loss affects the overall efficiency of the wireless sensor network.

 

These sensors are usually equipped with Bluetooth LE, Zigbee or other long-range RF transceivers. When designing the antenna, it’s important to pay attention to transmission loss. Ensuring impedance matching helps to reduce losses and ensure adequate coverage per sensor node. 

Every minor mistake will greatly impact the overall efficiency of the wireless sensor network. As such, it helps to use an advanced PCB design software for the sensor. Layout tools such as Allegro can not only help you with component placement and routing, but also work with you and your production team to ensure design finalization. 

If you’re looking to learn more about how Cadence has the solution for you, talk to us and our team of experts.

About the Author

Cadence PCB solutions is a complete front to back design tool to enable fast and efficient product creation. Cadence enables users accurately shorten design cycles to hand off to manufacturing through modern, IPC-2581 industry standard.

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