Magic Beans in the Bin

October 8, 2016 02:22 AM
Magic Beans in the Bin

Tiny sensors might change nature of crop storage

Enchanted beans are no longer a fairy tale proposition for agriculture. Thumb-sized plastic beans, packed with a world of sensor circuitry, might soon be ready for grain bins and storage facilities. No elaborate moisture monitoring system is required—toss in a magic pod to monitor grain vitals. 

Currently in trials, Andrew Holland’s BeanIoT is harnessing the Internet of Things (IoT) to use the power of wireless connectivity for practical farm application. BeanIoT measures temperature, humidity, air quality, altitude, a range of gasses including CO2, and movement in bulk-storage grain.

 BeanIoT is a unique grain bin monitoring  system: Toss in a plastic pod and get a  continuous health report.

Holland’s company, RFMOD, in Cambridge, England, has an international patent pending on BeanIoT. Each bean contains a Bluetooth radio, electronic compass, gyroscope and sensor devices. All the components act in harmony and communicate with other beans. Holland is currently testing the optimal ratio of BeanIoT pods needed for a given amount of grain. 

“There’s a sweet spot for an accurate picture of moisture, temperature and CO2 activity. Imagine gaining access to a continuous flow of data on storage conditions,” Holland says.

RFMOD is developing a multi-platform app to program beans on the go, configuring them individually or by group. Once beans are in place, a farmer has multiple monitoring options. The data shows up on a tablet or smartphone as a layered sensory map. 

“Where is it too hot or moist? What’s the precise depth of the problem? Stirring or drying only the problem spots saves a ton of fuel,” Holland says.

His idea is to let the sensor beans “sleep” most of the time and wake as conditions warrant. Essentially, a bean comes alive, takes a reading and returns to slumber. If a problem exists, the bean wakes its neighbors and sends out wireless alerts. RFMOD is trialing recovery methods based on magnetics, filters and placement in bug-catcher containers. The battery charge lasts 14 months and recharges in a few hours. 

The beans aren’t just a fit for grain bins. Holland says farmers can reassign the sensors for use in livestock barns, chemical sheds or equipment. For example, place a bean in or under equipment. If the machinery leaves the farm, the remaining beans send the owner an alert.  

Holland hopes to complete testing in 2016 and enter the U.S. market in 2017. “We want to make these bean sensors at scale and cheap for everyone,” he says. “IoT is ready for farming, and the world of possibility for agriculture is endless.”

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