How Microsoft plans to connect more farmers to AI
While some farmers are using IOT to save time and money, it’s not always a straightforward process.
Lack of data and power connectivity on farms is an obvious challenge. Another hurdle is the need to buy and install multiple IOT solutions for similar tasks, says Srini Chandrasekar, Director, Azure Global Engineering at Microsoft.
“A specific IOT provider may give you hardware with sensors for measuring soil moisture, a solution in the cloud and a mobile app,” Chandrasekar says.
“But if you want to measure nitrogen and PH levels, you go to a different provider, they give you their own sensors and application and the data sits on their site.”
“It’s very hard for farmers, even if they work with a system integrator, to build solutions that are customised for their needs.”
In Chandrasekar’s view, the problem is the result of hardware and software vendors forming one-on-one partnerships to offer bundled solutions.
Those bundles solutions may not be interoperable with other solutions, and might not provide access to advanced AI and data analytics services.
A common platform
To solve this problem, Microsoft is encouraging hardware and software vendors to enable their products to work with its IOT platform. That platform includes Microsoft Azure and a range of Azure services, including the Project FarmBeats initiative.
A common platform should improve interoperability, allowing ISVs and system integrators to build IOT solutions faster and more affordably, says Chandrasekar.
Hardware and software vendors will also benefit by leaving the task of maintaining the cloud stack and AI services to Microsoft.
“There are a lot of solutions out there that don’t use the Azure IOT Hub functionality for management, so they try and write their own management stack,” says Chandrasekar. “These are complex systems. Maintaining and investing in them gets to be hard for small companies over time.”
Microsoft is also creating templates, which it calls solution accelerators, to make it easier for end-user organisations to build IOT solutions.
Plenty of companies have demonstrated the benefits of using Microsoft’s IOT stack. They include Australian agtech provider The Yield, which worked with Microsoft, Intel and Bosch several years ago to build a system the oyster farming industry uses to monitor water quality.
Building an ecosystem
Microsoft is also hoping hardware and software vendors see that building on its platform will expose them to a wide array of complimentary products.
That includes a marketplace of AI models and additional data – for example, Microsoft will encourage providers of weather and geospatial information to offer that data via Azure.
“Our goal is to make it easy to aggregate all this data from the field, and weather and geospatial data, and use AI models and other technology to analyse it,” Chandrasekar explains.
Chandrasekar wants to enable an ecosystem of Project FarmBeats-enabled products that farmers can buy off the shelf and connect to solve problems.
“We are not an agtech solution provider. We are trying to enable agtech solution providers to be successful,” Chandrasekar says.
“You will see a lot more public information and partnerships with Project FarmBeats towards the later part of this year.”