Fifty miles south of Boston, the Internet of Things is taking hold in the City of New Bedford, Massachusetts.
It isn’t something you’d expect in this fishing and agricultural area. But thanks to INEX IoT Impact Labs, Dell and the companies’ many IoT partners, small and midsize enterprises here are discovering the power of IoT-enabled sensors and monitoring—and the data that comes from them.
There’s a type of industrial revival taking place among those types of businesses—taking current infrastructure and renovating it with new technology, says Christopher Rezendes, founder of INEX. They’re recognizing how this technology can help them solve real business problems and do it without having to spend a lot of money.
“Most of this planet is made up of individuals and small and midsize businesses just trying to make their way, not Fortune 500 companies,” he said. “We want to make sure the little folks aren’t locked out from getting and using the technology—and the data collected from it. We have to figure out how to do this the right way in places that don’t have all of the resources of big cities—in resource-strapped locations.”
INEX is like an IoT incubator. It partners with startup IoT tech companies, helps them develop the technology in the lab, then finds small and midsize enterprises to pilot the projects in the field. Farms and fishing businesses are the living labs.
To date, INEX and its partners have 25 living labs in the New Bedford area. The IoT technology monitors environmental conditions so they can improve operations, better manage resources, and grow better and more product.
“Robots are not the answer for all things,” Rezendes said. “We want to help businesses become more stable so they can hire more people. A positive impact from this will be felt down the line—in the canning business, plumbers, HVAC, production, banking, website design and more. At the end of the day, boots go in a truck and screwdrivers have to be turned.”
The ultimate goal is to help the businesses become stronger and more profitable so they can hire more workers—and create healthier cities and towns.
INEX isn’t alone in this venture. The state of Massachusetts is helping with projects around the state, including in New Bedford, and is investing $60 million to get technology out of the labs, deploy it in cities and towns, and make the technology in the state, said Katie Stebbens, assistant secretary for technology innovation and entrepreneurship for the state.
“We forget that towns and cities have to be profitable,” she said. “Towns are going to be here no matter what. Businesses may leave, but towns and cities will still be here.”
IoT living labs in the New Bedford area
INEX, with cooperation with Dell and its IoT partners, have IoT living labs operating at 25 small and midsize enterprises. Some of the field-based pilots, include the following:
Port of New Bedford
The Port of New Bedford has a blind spot. It cannot adequately see all activity coming in. This creates a security issue, but also a revenue issue because fish houses might under report landings and private boats might come in and not pay landing fees.
The solution is an IoT-enabled sensor powered by a Dell V5 gateway on the lighthouse. The gateway is like a data center in a box and can operate on its own—using Bluetooth, Wi-Fi, ZigBee wireless technology, and its own power source. Sensors can be added to the gateway to monitor a number of things.
Currently, the gateway on the lighthouse has a motion sensor. When the sensor detects a boat, it triggers an optical curtain in front of the blind spot in the port and video cameras start running, says Edward C Anthes-Washburn, executive director of the Harbor Development Commission.
This provides persistent security for fish houses, while also ensures the boats entering comply with the port’s rules and regulations.
“It’s a security service at night,” Rezendes said. “Think of it as ADT for your boat.”
In the future, the video created could be used to eliminate the paper invoicing fishing companies have to submit.
The project also has the capabilities to provide Chemical, Biological, Radiological and Nuclear (CBRN) sensors in multiple points, Rezendes said.
Salt Creek Vineyard, South Dartmouth, Mass.
Farms like Salt Creek Vineyard have to manage several unique microclimates. The conditions in one field can be completely different from conditions in another. The wind, moisture and soil can all be different, which means crops must be cared for differently.
Plus, the water level and quality of the vineyard’s well water must continuously be monitored to provide proper watering to the vines. One mistake could destroy the grapes and ruin the vines.
To help with this, Salt Creek, which is a 20-acre vineyard within a 130-acre farm, uses Dell’s V5 gateway and IoT technology in two locations.
Field 3 has a solar-powered Dell V5 gateway that has weather monitoring sensors.
It’s like a data center in a box—able to remotely monitor humidity, sunlight hours, moisture and wind speed.
Skott Rebello, production manager at Salt Creek, says knowing the amount of sunlight hours determines when the vineyard can begin its harvest, and knowing the wind speed determines whether conditions are good enough to spray pesticide.
The vineyard plans to add soil monitoring sensors and would like to add leaf analysis to help with preventive care of the vines.
At the location where Salt Creek plans to put its wine making facility, the vineyard monitors the quality of its water supply: pH level and temperature.
Knowing the correct pH level allows Rebello to accurately treat the water before spraying onto the vines. Spraying improperly treated water could destroy the vines.
All of the data is transferred into software—a dashboard—where it can be monitored and tracked.
Once wine making production begins, the vineyard will use sensors in the tanks to measure temperature, pH and other conditions.
Quansett Nurseries, South Dartmouth, Mass.
Growing plants year-round in New England is a tricky business. Changing seasons means nurseries have to constantly monitor their growing environments and adjust them. Plus, they need to monitor their water supply, which during a dry summer can drop to unnerving levels.
At Quansett Nurseries, a wholesale grower, Fred Dabney uses sensors in each of his two wells to monitor water levels. By knowing the levels, he can decide which well to use to water the plants. He can adjust and switch between wells so he doesn’t stress either of them.
The nursery uses sensors with a Dell V5 gateway in its greenhouse that grows microgreens. The sensors measure light, moisture and heat in the many different zones in the building. Each plant has different needs, and the sensors help the nursery ensure they provide the perfect climate for them.
The sensors control venting. When it gets too hot, the vents open and a curtain covers the inside of the roof. When it gets too cool, the vents close and the curtain remains off.
Under the microgreen beds, there are water tubes. If warmth is needed to germinate the seeds, they run hot water through the tubes.
The nursery also uses sensors in its hoop houses – sensors to monitor activity (motion), temperature, humidity, UV and sunlight.
The data, which is transmitted to a dashboard, helps Dabney provide optimal growing environments for the plants.
Other IoT living labs INEX and Dell have in operation:
- Island Creek Oysters in Duxbury, Mass.—The oyster farm uses sensors to monitor water quality to help breed oysters.
- Triple S Farm in Westport, Mass.—The cattle farm uses sensors monitor groundwater, livestock, and barns and facilities.
- Ivory Silo Seed Project in Westport, Mass.—The organic vegetable farm and seed saving program uses sensors to monitor soil conditions, bees and traceability.
- Buzzards Bay Brewing in Westport, Mass.—The brewery uses sensors to monitor micro-climates, soil conditions, water level and water quality, and keg tracking.