Agritech firm lets thirsty plants ‘order’ a drink via wifi

The ‘Internet of Things’ is old hat. Welcome to the ‘Internet of Living Things’

A 'connected' plant using Agrolan wi-fi technology (Photo credit: Courtesy)
A 'connected' plant using Agrolan wi-fi technology (Photo credit: Courtesy)

Everyone loves a nice houseplant, but taking care of it often gets put on the back burner as more urgent things divert their owners’ attention. A day here and a day there without watering or trimming turns into a regular pattern of neglect — and pretty soon, the plant goes the way of all cellulose.

It doesn’t have to be this way. Israel agri-tech start-up Agrolan is bringing connected wi-fi technology to the home plant market. Instead of guessing when to water or otherwise tend to their home plants and outdoor gardens, home customers can now install an Agrolan sensor that, via a home wi-fi system, will send out messages on behalf of plants, reminding their owners what to do when in order to ensure a plant’s success.

The tech is a take on sensor systems used by farmers to keep an eye on their crops, which measure soil acidity, water levels, and other factors to determine the overall health of their corn and wheat. Those systems also have analytical components that determine the optimal time to water, weed, and harvest crops. Agrolan has developed a similar system suitable for home use that connects with an app, which, based on sunshine levels, the amount of humidity in the soil, ground and air temperature, etc., determines if a plant needs human intercession, and what that intercession might entail.

The sensor is placed in soil (a single Agrolan sensor can handle up to 27 plants). The system then alerts gardeners (and homeowners), via text message or email, on specific steps to take to ensure optimal growing conditions. The sensor, said Agrolan, is waterproof, and can tolerate direct sunlight without a problem. The sensor, which operates on battery power, lasts for about a year, the company said.

In addition, the system maintains a database on each plant and on the soil it is growing in, developing an analytical algorithm that will allow the app to continue sending alerts even if the plant’s wifi is cut off – so if a plant generally needs watering every five days in the spring, when the temperature is moderate, the app will send out a “water alert” every three days during the summer months, following the same pattern until the plant comes back online. The database is password protected to thwart data thieves keen on getting their hands on a plant’s “digital identity.”

Agrolan, based in the Golan Heights, is a well-known agri-tech firm, selling a wide variety of agricultural tech equipment, including advanced drip irrigation systems, plant sensors, weather monitoring devices, etc. In 2012 the company set up, in conjunction with Google, a website that displays up-to-the-minute data on soil conditions, with data uploaded from mini-weather stations that gather information (updated hourly) about wind, rain, dew, sun, temperature, and humidity at over 70 locations in the country, giving farmers solid data with which to plan their planting, watering, and harvesting activities.

The plant messaging system is an outgrowth of Agrolan’s extensive work with both farmers and home gardeners who use technology to improve the results of their crops and gardens, said Moshe Ohana, Agrolan’s agricultural technology chief. “The sensor gathers all the data and sends it on to gardeners and plant owners, alerting them when there isn’t enough water, when it’s too cold, or when animals are attacking the plant. We have very busy lives,” said Ohana, “and it can be easy to forget to water plants. Hopefully our system will help more plants live longer.”

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