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Mole: An underground soil moisture sensor linked to the cloud

Soil moisture is an important factor in precision agriculture for enabling flexible and smart irrigation strategies. Measuring soil moisture at 30-100 cm depth through devices connected to the Internet provides a centralized view of the crop status and the overall irrigation system. However, the cost of underground sensors and their connectivity is still limiting the applicability of the smart irrigation concept.

Developed by IDESIO
Mole is based on a new sensor concept. The device consists of an underground LoRa transceiver which transmits radiowaves to a buried collector. From measurements of the electromagnetic loss, soil moisture estimates can be retrieved if soil type/texture is well known. The transceiver also embeds the communication capability: a concentrator, located onboard a UAV, will connect to the Internet. The cost of the solution is in the order of 10-30% wrt traditional
approaches.

TRL7. Integrated pilot system demonstrated
ProSystem prototype demonstration in operational environment. Prototype near or at planned operational system. Represents a major step up from TRL 6 by requiring demonstration of an actual system prototype in an operational environment. The communication protocol between the radio transceivers has been designed and implemented by IDESIO. It is a proprietary solution. The communication between the nodes, and with the drone gateway has been tested several times. Two PoCs have been already performed successfully with relevant stakeholders. Next steps will consist in testing the underground communication in a relevant environment and in quantifying the accuracy of soil moisture retrievals.

See more information about this level and the TRL and SRL levels.

The main components of the system have been tested separately, and an initial integration exercise has been conducted.

Credits
Collaborators

How does it work?

It is known that radiowaves (below 1 GHz) can propagate underground with a loss rate that depends on the soil type and moisture content. LoRa is a novel wireless technology for the IoT (Internet of Things) even much more robust to power losses than its predecessors. It is expected that LoRa waves can travel underground up to about 10-20 m. Two radio transceivers can exchange signals and make possible to provide indirect estimates of soil moisture content without the need for an ad hoc sensor. The soil moisture value is computed locally and then transmitted by the receiving node to a surface gateway. The latter will forward data to the Internet through, for example, a UAV repeater which is flying above the area.

Limitations/conditions under which this innovation does not work or is less effective

The basic issue is the heterogeneity or macro-heterogeneity of the terrain because indirect measurements of the soil moisture depend on soil texture and homogeneous conditions. As consequence, the possible presence of major obstacles or special features (e.g. stones, whose size is larger than 30 cm in diameter) might generate deviations between the actual and estimated soil moisture values. The accuracy of the system and potential deviations need to be quantified through some test campaigns.

Added value
Cost is reduced by a factor of about 80% with respect to traditional solutions that require the installation of the sensor onboard a mobile device (eg. UAV, quad). 2. Outside the ground, in line-of-sight conditions, LoRa can transmit data up to about 15 km. Setting a repeater onboard a UAV flying 20 meters above the ground, the data measured from 10,000 hectares can be transferred to the Internet in 20 minutes.

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