New Australian tech to provide farm-wide wi-fi

03-01 | |
Photo: Canva
Photo: Canva

Tractors and trucks will become moving wi-fi devices with a range of up to 5 kilometres, as part of a new Australian research collaboration to provide farm-wide internet coverage.

The so-called Food Agility CRC research collaboration is a project that involves Australian agtech company Zetifi, working alongside researchers at University of Technology Sydney and Charles Sturt University.

The research team is building antenna arrays that can be fitted to mobile and stationary farming equipment to provide long-range communication. It aims to deliver a market solution within 17 months.

Australia’s first ‘hands-free farm’

This is the first project to be announced as part of the Global Digital Farm, Australia’s first ‘hands-free farm’ at Wagga Wagga, where the technology will be trialled and tested. According to the Food Agility Chief Scientist, Professor David Lamb, the new technology would be enabling infrastructure for Australian agriculture.

“Improving connectivity for Australian farmers is the single most critical factor in driving productivity and sustainability in agriculture”, Professor Lamb says. “Farmers increasingly rely on high-level data analytics, automation and networks of devices that talk to each other over vast distances. This new technology will connect people and devices far beyond the farm gate and will be the backbone for the future of autonomous farming.”

I’ve seen farmers perform the most amazing acts of contortion, hanging out tractor windows and climbing up ladders, trying to get a decent connection

Connectivity is one of agriculture’s greatest barriers to sustainability and productivity growth in Australia. - Photo: René Groeneveld
Connectivity is one of agriculture’s greatest barriers to sustainability and productivity growth in Australia. – Photo: René Groeneveld

CEO Dan Winson of Zetifi says farmers deserve the same connectivity for their businesses as those in urban areas. “I’ve seen farmers perform the most amazing acts of contortion, hanging out tractor windows and climbing up ladders, trying to get a decent connection”, he emphasises. “This will be an Australian-designed solution, made for Australian conditions to deliver connectivity wherever it’s needed on the farm. It will complement NBN wireless broadband and satellite coverage, helping farmers to transfer critical data across our vast landscapes.”

Custom antenna array

The technology will be a combination of adapted off-the-shelf and bespoke solutions, including a custom antenna array. Dr Negin Shariati, Co-Director Radio Frequency and Communication Technologies Laboratory (RFCT) at UTS: “At the heart of communication systems providing long-range connectivity is an antenna. RFCT researchers will design and fabricate new types of antennas integrated with a custom radiofrequency module to enable long-range communication in smart farms.”

Senior Research Fellow Jonathan Medway at CSU’s Graham Centre for Agricultural Innovation points out that the Global Digital Farm will develop, test and showcase the best in emerging technology for Australian farmers. “It’s fitting that the first of many collaborations here will tackle one of agriculture’s greatest barriers to sustainability and productivity growth – connectivity.”

Groeneveld
René Groeneveld Correspondent for Australia