I have considered tillage to be the activity most ready for automation, so I had applauded Bear Flag’s emphasis on tillage and Deere’s decision to acquire them and offer an autonomous 8R for tillage. I’ll be interested to see how this goes… it’s coming at a time when no-till or strip-till is increasingly popular, but there’s still a lot of the world still digging up fields.
Planting and harvest are difficult, complex, and time-sensitive tasks, so I expect they will be the last to be automated, but that still leaves spraying and cultivating. GUSS out here in California is already out spraying orchards, and, again, I think Deere was smart to acquire Blue River for their vision-based weeding system. It’s not ready to be a blockbuster product this year, but I can certainly see a future where weeding (and possibly other pest control) is done by a self-driving machine. The autonomous farm won’t be a complete “rip-and-replace” operation – I expect we’ll see it come one piece at a time, slowly replacing human labor, just as it has for the last 200 years.
In truth, once you are liberated from having to drive the machine, of course, you can actually employ more machines. You can have multiple large machines, like the Deere 8R tractor or the Raven (now Case) Omnipower platform, working in different fields, or you could conceivably start replacing some of them with swarms of small, nimble machines like the prototype Fendt Xaver seeder or the Australian Swarmfarm sprayer.
However, having multiple machines in the field requires that they be able to communicate with each other and, possibly, with a central server. That communications must be both low-latency (to avoid delays and collisions) and high-bandwidth (to ensure that they can “speak freely” – at times they’ll need to communicate a lot of information). There are a lot of pundits out there telling us that “5G will solve everything” – and the technical specs tell us that could be absolutely true. That leaves only one important question: do you have 5G on your farm today?
If you’re in the 95% or so who answer “no” to that question, you might want to consider another solution – a solution that might even be better. Meshing WiFi was originally designed to enable “Mobile Ad-Hoc Networks” or “MANETs” – exactly what these devices are using in the field. Instead of waiting for a carrier (or several – many farmers I know require two or more phones, because one carrier covers one part of the farm and a different carrier covers another) to come and plant a 5G network on your property, you can start establishing a WiFi network across your property using AyrMesh Hubs and AyrMesh Cab Hubs for your vehicles.
The advantages of using WiFi include:
You control the network: what gets covered and who gets to use it
It uses your existing Internet connection – no extra charges
It connects to your existing LAN – you can put servers on your network so data need not leave your farm
It’s standard, so it works with everything, from your laptop to cameras to low-cost soil sensors and controllers… including robots
It will get better with time – new versions of WiFi will bring advantages.
This is an exciting time for farming – things are going to change pretty quickly, and there will be real advantages for those who adopt new technologies. The AyrMesh network provides a “backbone” that allows you to adopt those technologies easily, and we’re eager to work with the companies that are producing these new technologies to maximize the value they bring to farmers.
We are very proud to introduce the second member of our new “Compact” product line – the AyrMesh ReceiverC.
This new Receiver combines most of the power of our “regular” Receiver with a much smaller form factor. It performs at least as well as the “big” Receiver at distances under 1 mile, and still works well at distances up to 2 miles from the nearest Hub.
We were motivated to bring out the AyrMesh ReceiverC by observing that the vast majority of our customers were mounting AyrMesh Receivers within 1 mile of the nearest AyrMesh Hub, and the power from the AyrMesh Receiver was actually overwhelming the AyrMesh Hub. While we have the ability to reduce the transmit power of the Receiver (and the ReceiverC, by the way), the higher-gain antennae on the Receiver sometimes made it impossible to put it on outbuildings very near the Hub.
The ReceiverC is actually a more flexible version of the AyrMesh Receiver, and, as an added bonus, actually is a little less expensive. Please take a look at it for your next AyrMesh addition.
The Hub2x2C is something of a departure for us – a more compact, slightly lower-power Hub with lower-gain antennas, built not for absolute maximum range but to provide continuous WiFi for smaller to medium-sized rural operations.
The AyrMesh Hub2x2C is a response to a problem we have been seeing from our customers: the ability to put Hubs 2.5 miles apart is great for covering a lot of acreage, but the “normal” Hubs don’t work well if they are LESS than 1 mile apart – they overpower each other. However, at 1 mile or more apart, the Hubs are really providing “pools” of WiFi around them, because lower-power devices may only have a usable range of a few hundred yards. There are frequently areas between the Hubs that are, effectively, uncovered for a lower-power device.
The new AyrMesh Hub2x2C can be placed half a mile apart, meaning that even a device with a maximum range of 400 yards can have continuous coverage, passing cleanly from one Hub to the next at the extent of its range.
When we first developed the AyrMesh Hubs, the predominant WiFi device was a large, sturdy laptop, with a “normal” strength WiFi radio and fairly large (although hidden) WiFi antennas. We were actually surprised at how far the Hubs allowed a device like this to communicate – typically half a mile, sometimes further.
As WiFi cameras came out, they used similar WiFi adapters as laptops and generally had similar range. Many had (and still have) removable external antennas that can be replaced with higher-gain antennas to even longer range.
However, now the predominant WiFi device is the smartphone, which uses a lower-power WiFi radio to save battery power, and has smaller antennas to minimize their size. And, on top of that, we’re seeing a new generation of “truly wireless” cameras run off batteries – again, using lower-power WiFi radios and frequently without an option for a higher-gain antenna. While a standard laptop might be able to use the Hub from half a mile or more away, these low-power devices will typically only have about half that range – 400 yards or so.
In the fields of a large farm, the problem of limited WiFi range is solved by use of the AyrMesh Cab Hub2 – the Cab Hub2 is easily fitted to tractors, combines, sprayers, pickups – even utility vehicles – to keep the vehicle and occupants in touch with the stationary Hubs.
On smaller farms and rural businesses, however, workers are frequently on foot, so the Cab Hub is not very practical.
The new AyrMesh Hub2x2C Hubs can be placed as close as 800 yards apart (even closer in some instances – we can reduce the transmit power) to completely cover an area in WiFi. Note, however, that they can still be positioned up to 2 miles apart (with reduced bandwidth), and you can still put up to three “circles” of Hubs around the Gateway Hub. So the new Hub2x2C can still be used to “light up” thousands of acres.
One question that has come up is the range from the new Hub to “ordinary” WiFi devices – the answer is that, at least in our testing, it is unchanged relative to the “big” Hubs. The range to phones, tablets, laptops, etc. is primarily determined by the transmit power and antenna quality of the device, not the Hub – we actually found no measurable difference between the performance of the Hub2x2C and the Hub2x2 and Hub2T for WiFi – the only real difference is in meshing with other Hubs.
Please have a look at the new Hub2x2C – it’s a great option for most rural WiFi users!
We do occasional questionnaires and surveys to determine what our users want to do with their outdoor WiFi systems, and “security” and “cameras” have consistently been at the top of the list. So every few months I buy some new cameras and test them out here in the lab. I want to share with you my notes on the cameras we have sitting around here and what we’re still looking at. Spoiler alert: we haven’t found the perfect camera for farm/ranch security use yet.
The first category is “traditional IP cameras” – these are cameras that are pretty much self-contained and have more or less standard interfaces. They are “stand alone” devices that come up on your network and work. They are (mostly) very easy to integrate into an existing security system or home automation system, because they use standards like ONVIF and RTSP. These all require constant power, usually via a “wall wart” power supply, although some use Power over Ethernet (PoE).
Cheap Ebay Camera
Foscam cameras – these are simple, older IP cameras with VGA (640×480) resolution and WiFi. There were also many clones that were similar and used the same firmware, available cheap on Ebay. They aren’t available any more, as far as I know, and they’re quite outdated, the picture quality is not good, but they were very simple to use. You might still find some clones on Ebay, but I wouldn’t bother given the choices that area available now.
Ubiquiti Cameras and NVR, courtesy of Ubiquiti Networks
Ubiquiti AirCams – I used to have a couple of these, but I have never found a way to use them effectively. Ubiquiti created a whole “system” with an NVR and cameras, but it was (in my opinion) good but never great. Their cameras didn’t do WiFi (all wired), and I lost interest in them. Apparently Ubiquiti did, too, as they seem to have discontinued the entire product line. There are still a lot of them available online, and they are a good choice for a building with Ethernet infrastructure.
Axis indoor camera
Axis M1030 and M1031 cameras – Axis products are generally considered the “best” IP cameras available, but the low-cost “M” series are the only ones that are WiFi-capable. The models I have are old and have been replaced by updated versions, which are undoubtedly even better. These are my “workhorse” cameras that keep an eye on things inside our lab buildings, but they can’t be used outdoors at all. Axis makes a very broad variety of cameras, but none of the outdoor cameras use WiFi, so they have to be used with an AyrMesh Receiver. They are relatively expensive, but very, very good.
Amcrest cameras – Amcrest came out a few years ago with some remarkably high-quality, outdoor, WiFi-capable cameras. We have had one at our back door for a couple of years now, and it has been absolutely flawless and has a very nice picture. They are comparable to the low-end Axis cameras at a much lower price; in addition, they are outdoor and WiFi-ready. They use ONVIF and standard RTSP, so they are relatively easy to integrate into an existing NVR and/or security system. These are generally my “go-to” cameras – I recommend them quite a lot. The only shortcomings are that they are “traditional” IP cameras, requiring constant external power, so they’re not easily deployed away from a power source. However, they are my absolute favorite “traditional” IP camera for use where there is a source of power. You can easily buy them on Amazon.
Vivotek IB8369A camera
Vivotek– I have a nice outdoor Vivotek IB8369A camera. It’s a very nice camera, and Vivotek has a very large line of very high-quality cameras. I was interested because it was one of the first cameras I had seen that had more advanced “object detection” capability – much more accurate than the algorithm in most cameras at detecting people and animals moving into the scene. And it works well, but they do not make any WiFi-capable cameras. So the Vivotek has remained connecte to our network, but I don’t generally recommend them, especially now that advanced object detection is becoming available on other cameras.
The second category is “App-centric Cameras” – cameras that depend on an app to provide the “brains” of the camera.
The first of these was the “Dropcam,” which was acquired by Nest and Google. I was an “early adopter” of the Dropcam, later to become the Nest camera, and I found it to be very handy. However, it did not integrate into any home security system (until Nest introduced their own), they did not introduce an outdoor camera for years after the first, indoor camera, and the only way it can be used to detect motion and provide alerts is by paying a monthly fee to Google. Ring (now part of Amazon) came out with similar cameras, with similar shortcomings.
I bought a Wyze camera soon after they came out because I was intrigued by their price point: $20 for a good, simple, indoor camera, or $30 for one with pan-and-tilt capability. And I have been delighted with them: they can do motion detection and alterting, and you can easily access them through the very good Wyze app. They use a micro-SD card to store video on the camera, so you don’t have to have a subscription. They are currently my “go-to” for simple indoor cameras (e.g. folks who just want to see what’s going on in their house when they’re gone). They have introduced an outdoor camera, but it really belongs in the next category.
I also got a camera that touts itself as being much more capable in terms of locating motion: the SimCam Alloy 1S. This is a camera that uses a Passive InfraRed sensor to detect movement, and then uses advanced software techniques (which they call “artificial intelligence”) to identify people and other items in the camera’s view. So far, it has identfied me, the dog, and the cat next door as “person,” so I am not sure how well the person identification works. It’s a good little camera, and they have introduced a battery-operated indoor version. If they introduce a battery-operated outdoor version with a solar panel, I’ll certainly want to look at it.
The third category is “Battery-operated cameras” – these are app-centric cameras that can be installed remotely, without a power outlet. This is a very tricky category – there are a fair number of variations on this theme, but they are (so far) none that “look” like standard IP cameras. All are app-dependent, but most of them use local storage to avoid having to use “the cloud” to store video after a motion detection event. In order to minimize battery usage, they depend on a Passive InfraRed (PIR) sensor to detect movement, which then turns the camera on until the movement is done. You can get alerts through the camera’s app, and then access the video stored on the micro-SD card on the camera itself. However, none of these are currently capable of being integrated with a “traditional” security system, although some are able to integrate with popular home automation systems like Alexa and Google Assistant.
The first camera I used in this category was the Reolink Argus, which runs on four small “CR123” batteries. I was delighted with this camera for about 3 weeks (I had it mounted out where I was having some critter troubles, and it captured lovely video of a rat running around). I replaced the batteries, and, about 3 weeks later, it died. I then got some lithium 16340 batteries and a charger (the camera requires four). They lasted about 2 weeks between charges, and I was starting to get tired of changing the batteries when it had another problem: the latch holding the micro SD card broke, so it would no longer store video. It does not integrate with any “normal” security system, and it doesn’t have a way to integrate other power sources (e.g. a solar panel to keep the batteries charged), so it is currently sitting on a shelf.
I then saw a relatively inexpensive solar-powered camera on Aliexpress.com and decided based on the specifications to give it a try. There were two immediate downsides: first, it shipped with incredibly bad batteries – they died and would not hold a charge after only 2 days. I replaced the batteries with known-good 18650 batteries and it has worked fine ever since. The second problem is that it depends on an app which is published by someone who is unknown (at least to me) and does not seem to be of the highest quality. That said, it has been working pretty reliably for a few months now.
Reolink Argus Eco
Reolink then released their Reolink Argus Eco, which, when paired with the optional solar panel, is functionally very similar to the camera above. I thought it would be interesting to compare and contrast with the “generic” camera above. It was a little more difficult to mount, since the camera and solar panel are separate, but worked essentially the same. The app comes from Reolink, which I found encouraging.
As noted, the performance of these two cameras is very similar. When they have a tight view of a somewhat secluded area (e.g. looking at a door from across the yard) they work very well – they alert every time someone walks through the scene with very few false alerts. When they are looking at a wider area with a lot of different things in the picture, they both generate a lot of false alerts. For instance, I have the Reolink in my brother’s front yard, looking at his cars in the driveway, and I get almost constant alerts from it when the wind is blowing, because it “sees” the branches of the trees moving. I had tested the inexpensive Chinese camera in his back yard and saw the same problem. I put the inexpensive Chinese camera in my back yard and pointed it at the back door, however, and it worked perfectly.
There’s not a single camera I can recommend without reservations. The Amcrest cameras are very good traditional IP cameras, and they integrate well with many traditional home security systems, but they require constant power and careful consideration around IP address planning (including router configuration) if you want to use them with an NVR or from outside your network.
The Wyze indoor cameras are so good and so inexpensive that they’re definitely my current choice for indoor cameras if you don’t need to integrate in with a traditional home security system. Their app is very good, and provides good alerts on motion, as well as good “on-demand” viewing. Unfortunately, they recently introduced an outdoor camera that, due to its design and the reviews I have read, I’m going to decline to test. They are going in a lot of directions right now, and not all of them will be successful, and I hope they “double back” and build a good, simple, outdoor solar-powered camera without the complications of the “Gateway module” and yet another wireless network.
Similarly, I like the Reolink Argus Eco for use in outdoor locations where there’s no power. Just turn off the motion detection and notifications if you need to use it in an area where there’s likely to be a lot of extra motion due to wind or other factors. There are a huge number and variety of similar cameras coming out of China – perhaps we can modify one or more of them to optimize it for rural use.
I’m going to keep looking and testing cameras here with an eye toward what works on the farm or ranch. Of course, I’m always eager to hear about what you have found, what you are using, and what you’re not using any more (successes and failures). Next up for me is the “EyeCube” – I’ll let you know how it goes.
We were intrigued and excited by a recent press release from Land O’ Lakes announcing that their retail operations would be installing WiFi for the use of their customers. In the best of times the rural ag retailer can be a lifeline for local farmers; in these difficult times, offering services to help local farmers and their families keep connected and work effectively, even if remotely is absolutely commendable.
We salute the Land O’ Lakes leadership and stand ready to assist any of their affiliated retailers in deploying WiFi on their rural locations.
Whether you’re a farmer needing to have connectivity in the farm office (and perhaps share your connection with a neighbor in need) or a rural business wanting to help your employees and rural communities stay online, Ayrstone can help. Just drop us an email at firstname.lastname@example.org and we’ll work with you.
We are pleased to announce the availability of the new AyrMesh Cab Hub2, designed for use with a wide variety of farm equipment: tractors, sprayers, spreaders, harvesters, trucks, utility vehicles – just about anything that rolls and has a 12 volt utility plug.
The AyrMesh Cab Hub2 is a variation of our AyrMesh Hub2x2 design, with two high-gain magnetic mount antennas to provide MIMO (Multiple Input, Multiple Output) for high bandwidth and better signal integrity.
This new model of the AyrMesh Cab Hub combines the best qualities of our previous model of the Cab Hub – ease of setup and use – with improvements to make it even easier to set up, as well as significantly better overall performance.
We have been trying to bring out a MIMO version of the Cab Hub for quite a while, but we kept running into problems with the radios we were trying to use. This radio, however, passed all our tests with flying colors and has been rock-solid.
Because it is based on the same weather-resistant design as the Hub2x2, the Cab Hub2 can be used on enclosed cab machines or machines without a cab – open-cab tractors and even utility vehicles and ATVs.
The Cab Hub connects with the stationary Hubs in your AyrMesh network and provides both WiFi and Ethernet connectivity to your vehicle and the area around it. It even connects with other Cab Hubs to extend your WiFi network where you may not have stationary Hubs.
As Machine-to-Machine or M2M communications becomes increasingly important, the Cab Hub2 provides a simple, high-bandwidth, reliable way to connect vehicles to each other and to external servers, on the farm or in the cloud. Meshing WiFi is faster and more reliable than cellular, and available anywhere it’s needed without carriers or subscription fees.
As autonomous farm vehicles become available, M2M communications will become even more vital to farm operations. For that reason, we are also offering the Cab Hub2 in OEM packaging for integration into new autonomous platforms and products. The product is available at a board level up to the complete product, according to the integrator’s needs.
We firmly believe that meshing WiFi is the only communications solution that enables autonomy on the farm – please contact us today to talk more about your autonomous solutions and needs. At the beginning of this article I said the Cab Hub is good for anything that rolls – but we’re talking to folks who make things that fly, too!
After over a year, we are happy to announce the new version of the AyrMesh Hub2x2!
The new Hub2x2, just like the older model, offers twice the bandwidth
(speed) of the single-antenna Hub2T and Hub2n. However, this new model
offers more transmit power along with high-gain antennas for maximum
range – the same as the Hub2T.
This new model of the Hub2x2 has the antenna jacks solidly molded into the case for maximum durability, with durable, high-gain antennae very similar to the antenna on the Hub2T.
We strongly recommend the Hub2x2 as your “Gateway Hub” – the Hub connected to your Router as the origin of your AyrMesh network; for Remote Hubs we now offer either the Hub2x2 or the Hub2T.
In our testing, we have found that the new Hub2x2 delivers up to 65 Mbps to a 2×2 client (as tested with a Samsung Galaxy S10), and over 30 Mbps as a Remote Hub 2 miles from a Hub2x2 Gateway Hub, so it’s much more capable as a Remote Hub than the older Hub2x2 model – faster than the Hub2T.
The one big difference between the Hub2x2 and the Hub2T is in the amount of power needed – the Hub2T requires only about 4.5 Watts, but the Hub2x2 needs about 8 Watts. For this reason, we continue to suggest the use of the Hub2T in cases where power is an issue, like a “field Hub” powered by a solar-panel battery pack.
The new Hub2x2 is available right now in the Ayrstone store – please check it out today and let us know what you think!
The AyrMesh Bridge is just what it sounds like: a very simple-to-install, easy-to-use wireless bridge, consisting of two microwave radios – one connected to your network and the other connected to something you want attached to your network. It’s like a wireless Ethernet cable – up to 5 miles long!
The AyrMesh Bridge is useful for a wide variety of applications, including:
Connecting a Gateway AyrMesh Hub to your router when the Hub needs to be mounted more than 100 meters from the router – e.g. on top of a grain leg or hill, at a neighbor’s house, or in the middle of your farm when your Internet access is at one of the edges.
Jumping your AyrMesh network across neighboring fields – take off from one Hub at the edge of one field and connect a Hub at the edge of a distant field.
Just connecting a device or building on the farm to your network when you don’t need outdoor WiFi (you can use an IndoorHub connected to the Bridge for Indoor WiFi).
As the title suggests – this is just the beginning of the “It’s Back!” series from Ayrstone. Stay tuned!
There is an image of farming – bucolic, peaceful, unfettered by the concerns of the technological age. It’s lovely, and many of us indulge it to some degree… but it is patently false. Agriculture is an industry moving quickly on the technology curve as markets demand more, higher-quality, and cheaper food and grains. Specialized implements, higher-horsepower machines, GPS steering, variable rate planting and spraying, and the cellphone have all had an impact on farm productivity. But that’s not all.
Courtesy of Waymo
The Robots are coming.
Look, anybody who has sat in a tractor or combine moving through the field by itself using AutoSteer has to have thought, “Do I really need to be here?” In various cities around the U.S., we have been witness to Google vehicles (and others) happily (if sometimes slowly) wheeling themselves around town, their human handlers typing away on their laptops. If they can run sedans on public roads, they can run a tractor down a row of corn. There are a lot of questions about what the first (big) bunch of farm robots will be doing, but the Japanese have been using almost completely autonomous mini-tractors for rice transplanting for years. There are a lot of people and companies testing robots around the world for farming – big ones and little ones.
Courtesy of CNH
We have been interested in robots on the farm because we had a vague sense they need a lot more data connectivity than is available in most places now. So I read this article with interest; to quote: “Internet access is a problem,” [Scott Shearer, professor and chair of Food, Agricultural and Biological Engineering, Ohio State University] said. “We need 10 megabits per second connection speed.” Data-gathering tools today can capture gigabytes of information that must be able to flow back to the driverless machine quickly and easily; and the machine must be able to communicate to a central location too.
In some places, cellular connectivity may be enough, but, as discussed earlier in this blog, we don’t expect cellular service to improve dramatically in rural America. And it’s going to still be expensive.
Our modest proposal: set up an AyrMesh network on your farm today for long-range WiFi. And be ready for the robots!
After extensive research, testing, and development, we are pleased to announce the all new AyrMesh Hub2x2.
The AyrMesh Hub2x2 is our first Hub to use MIMO to dramatically improve the upload and download speed, both between the Hub and your devices and between the meshed Hubs themselves. The Hub2x2 can deliver up to twice the data speed of the Hub2T, enabling our customers to do things like:
Use high-definition security cameras
Download manuals, diagrams, videos, etc. up to twice as fast
Make and Receive video calls
Stream HD movies – even out in the garden
MIMO is a technology that allows a WiFi access point (like the AyrMesh Hubs) to use multiple antennas that receive and transmit multiple “spatial streams” of data simultaneously. Multiple antennas also help make the signal more readily available in difficult places like in trees and around buildings.
The use of MIMO represents a new strategy for AyrMesh Hubs. Previous AyrMesh Hubs traded off bandwidth to achieve maximum range. The Hub2x2 combines outstanding bandwidth and excellent range to normal WIFI-enabled devices, with a small sacrifice in Hub-to-Hub range.
The reason for this tradeoff is that we have found that most of our customers have their Hubs within a mile of each other, and are primarily interested in ensuring good WiFi coverage with excellent speed around their home, pool, gardens, farm office, workshop, barns, chicken coops, and stables. The new Ayrmesh Hub2x2 is designed specifically for those needs while still enabling you to expand your AyrMesh network out into fields and across thousands of acres.
The Hub2x2 vs. the Hub2T
The AyrMesh Hub2x2 is a perfect Gateway Hub for almost any AyrMesh network, because it provides long range and high bandwidth. The Hub2x2 is also a great Remote Hub up to a mile away, making it an excellent product for providing high-bandwidth WiFi around a rural home, farm, or estate. By placing Hubs a mile or less apart, you can ensure a continuous “cloud” of WiFi for your devices.
For Remote Hub installations more than a mile away, we recommend using the Hub2T. Its single antenna “focuses” its signal much more for longer-range applications, which provides better bandwidth at those distances than the Hub2x2.
The only time we will recommend the Hub2T as a Gateway Hub is when a Remote Hub will be positioned over 2 miles away from the Gateway. In this case, the Hub2T will provide better bandwidth to the Remote Hub2T than the Hub2x2 would.
One other point: the Hub2T has MUCH lower power requirements than the Hub2x2, so it is more suitable for solar/wind powered installations.
The new AyrMesh Hub2x2 – a new kind of AyrMesh Hub