Edge Computing for Palm Trees

Not only do they constitute an essential dietary element for some nations, dates are also a source of national pride and identity (photo credit: Prof. Mark Tester).
Date farms in the Arabian peninsula come in all sizes, tastes, and flavors. From small farms with a couple of thousand trees to mega farms with hundreds of thousands of trees (photo credit: Prof. Mark Tester).

Moving the needle to the edge

The conventional wisdom today is to dumb down IoT devices as much as possible and keep intelligence in the back-end, e.g. server in the cloud. Such a paradigm, however, would be unfavorable due to the following reasons:

  1. It results in too much communications to the back-end thus increasing the capital and operational cost of the communications solution itself.
  2. Too much communication in return depletes IoT devices batteries very quickly. With tens of thousands of trees per orchard, who wants to replace so many batteries so often?! For a date palm orchard owner, the math simply does not add up.
Palm trees can be infested by a variety of pests, with red palm weevil (RPW) being the most notorious and harmful. If infestation is not detected at an early stage, it may end up eradicating the tree entirely (photo credit: Prof. Mark Tester).
The ST Microelectronics STM32WL Nucleo-73 evaluation board hosting an ARM Cortex M4 microcontroller and a long-range low-power LoRa transceiver.

The need to drive cost down

Battery depletion rate is not the only hurdle to scalability. Another major one is the cost per tree. Taking the RPW example again, current solutions in the market today are offered at no less than USD 50–100 per sensor (i.e. tree). This is most likely driven by the invasive nature of the IoT device. It typically entails a highly sensitive acoustic sensor with a coupling spike that needs to be drilled into the tree trunk.

The design of a smart tree “watch”

Exploiting the interplay between detection and false positive performance, we took a stab at the problem by playing out the game of diversity. For example, if a high-performance acoustic sensor is worth ~USD 50, then there is a good chance its performance can be matched with an array of 3–5 lesser quality sensors, each costing less than USD 2.

“Smart Tree Watch”: a proof-of-concept (PoC) system developed by Insyab. It features an array of 3 low-cost acoustic sensors with sufficient on-board processing capabilities to run machine inference.

Hitting the sweet

The Smart Tree Watch is still a nascent project that needs to be scaled up and tested more intensively in the field. Nonetheless, we believe the way it is designed strikes the right balance between probability of detection and probability of false alarm.

Our “Smart Tree Watch” design offers a very good detection performance and exploits the tolerance in false alarm performance to drive down cost.

Ushering the era of tree “wearables”

We are very excited at the prospects of this project. Together with many others in this domain, we’re creating the “internet of trees”. We believe low-cost long-endurance IoT devices will have a disruptive effect on the agricultural sector. In some sense, it is quite analogous to effect which wearable technology is having on us.

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