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Agriculture Technology Podcast: Orbis Mesh

Agriculture Technology Podcast: Orbis Mesh

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Orbis Mesh Network, founded in 2018, is focused on building a sustainable, wireless, and efficient world using Mesh Network technology.

Orbis Mesh Network technology leaves cables and airtime charges in the past. Using a decentralized signal independent of telecommunication networks, devices relay data and commands through a network built solely by the devices. This system can be scaled up to hundreds of meters and is accessible from a single point.

But how?

The technology builds a stable, self-configuring wireless system which transforms any device into a router. Devices link to their neighbor, building the most efficient path of communication using a radio frequency.

The system eliminates wires and cords in short range applications and replaces them with a wireless, low energy alternative, free of airtime charges.

Using this technology water wasted in irrigation systems can be reduced up to 60%. Energy consumption, system monitoring, and automation technology can be optimized and monitored from a single source. Orbis Mesh Technology is committed to be an affordable solution, and a leader in of Smart City Technology.

Gerry Wight, head of business development and Chris Conti, marketing manager, join host Tony Kramer for a look at this new technology. 

Tune in to Episode #90 here:

You can also read through the entire episode’s transcript, here:

Tony Kramer: Hello, everyone. This is Tony Kramer, product specialist with RDO Equipment Company. You are listening to the Agriculture Technology Podcast.

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Tony: Every day there are phenomenal advancements being made in the field of agriculture technology. RDO Equipment Company is a leader in agriculture equipment and precision agriculture technology and it's your industry experts bringing the latest news and information from RDO and John Deere. Thanks for joining us on the Agriculture Technology Podcast. Welcome back to another episode of the podcast. This is episode number 90. Today, we're going to be talking about Orbis Mesh Technologies. Before we dive into the show, please take a moment to subscribe to this podcast if you haven't already. You can subscribe on the many different podcasting apps that we're streaming this to such as Apple's podcast app, we have it on Stitcher, Overcast, SoundCloud, as well as many others. While you're out there, drop us a review. We'd love to hear what you think about the show.

Lastly, make sure to follow RDO Equipment Company on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, and catch all of our latest videos on YouTube. You can also follow me on Twitter @RDOTonyK. With that, let's get back to the show. I am very excited to welcome Chris Conti who is the marketing manager for Orbis Mash and also Gerry Wight who is the head of business development, also with Orbis Mesh. Thanks for joining us on the show today, Chris and Gerry. To get started, I'd really like to learn a little bit more about the two of you and your backgrounds and how you got involved in this industry. Chris, why don't you introduce yourself first?

Chris Conti: I'm the Marketing Manager here at Orbis Mesh. I've been a marketing manager for past few years. I came from a design and more of arts background. I found my way into the technology world. From there it's been the journey essentially to get to Orbis Mash.

Tony: Gerry, let's learn a little bit more about you.

Gerry Wight: This is my fifth wireless company. It's always fun dealing with different radio technologies and the applications that they address. I joined Orbis last fall to get out and find, talk to, and engage with potential customers.

Tony: That's great to learn a little bit more about you guys. You definitely sound like you have a very extensive background in both the marketing and the business end of things. Thanks for coming on the show to talk to us a little bit about something that isn't super relevant right now in the agriculture industry, which is, I would imagine, while you guys are working towards getting stuff into the ag industry. A mesh network, what exactly is a mesh network?

Chris: A mesh network, simply put, is a network that has devices that connect to each other to build a network. That's a contrast with what we see usually with cell phones or Wi-Fi where you have one point of connection and it is a radius of it and any device within that radius is then part of that network. If it goes outside of that radius, it's no longer part of it. There's one single point. This with mesh networks is a way that devices self-configure and build a network themselves because they each have a connection point. Things like sensors or controllers are able to self-configure using a radio frequency and build into an efficient path of communication that has no single point of failure. The stability of the network increases as more devices are essentially attached to it, unlike say a Wi-Fi network where the more devices that are within a network, the weaker the signal gets.

Tony: With the construction or the layout of these mesh networks in the ag industry what we're used to a lot of is like that cellular network that you talked about, Chris, or even satellite networks and communicating in that sense. How do you guys view mesh networks being relevant in the ag industry? Where are we going to be able to use these mesh network systems?

Chris: With these mesh networks, what they do is they essentially eliminate the cables that you have better connecting any sort of sensors or controllers as well as you are reducing any airtime charges that you'd have to pay using cellular connections or using satellite connections. What we really need this technology offers is a way to efficiently cut the cord and have more control over what you're doing because all the devices also, whether they're different sensors and different pieces of equipment, they can all be linked within the same network of controls from a single point.

Tony: Taking away all of the cords and the hard wiring definitely make these systems seem to be very usable, especially from an agricultural standpoint, not having to worry about the harnessing and the cords and everything that is done out there. What are maybe some examples of how this could be used in agriculture today?

Gerry: Very broadly, we see two general applications which we think would apply to anybody who wants to improve their farm and their crop yield. The first one is commonly called Smart Irrigation, but essentially it is the ability to have a sensor out in the field, monitoring things such as soil moisture, relaying that information back to your irrigation controller and deciding when to turn the controller on to water the field.

That's a step up from just using timers or the gut feel of the experienced farmer. Obviously, if you can do that in a wireless connection, it makes the relaying of that data real simple, both to decide when to turn something on, as well as when to send a signal out to the controller valves and actually open up the valves to get the water flowing. The second application takes that off up another level and it's quite often called precision agriculture. It is the collection of a whole range of data about your crop and your field, temperature, humidity, soil moisture, solidity, nutrients within the plants.

If you stream all of that back to a website where it can be monitored in real time, you know exactly what's going on in your field. You decide when you water it, when you provide it with nutrients, perhaps when you need to cover it up if it's getting cold, when you open up the shutters if it's in a greenhouse or covered field. It gives you quantitative data as to what's actually going on in the field, not only to help save costs such as water, but also to generate more revenue by increasing crop yield.

Tony: I really like what you guys are talking about here with these mesh networks. Not only are we going as absolute wireless as possible, but you're also mentioning automation when it comes to the irrigation standpoint and then the collection of that data on the agronomy side or the precision ag side. A wireless network linked with automation, it's definitely seems to be where the agriculture industry is going. These mesh networks, I feel, definitely have a fit in agriculture. What kind of future applications do you guys foresee coming out with these sensors or mesh networks in general?

Chris: In general, we feel that this technology offers essentially a way to redundancy for any short range communication. Something that, I think, there's really big areas that mesh networks could succeed would be in smart city technology in ways that were controlling traffic lights or street lights or parking meters, to be able to efficiently collect data as well as automate different commands.

The big thing that we believe that this could save and reduce is our dependency from a municipality standpoint on cellular and telecom companies because really, when you look at the cities and the smart city initiatives and all these sensors that are being implemented in the cities, they have to be connected somehow on networks like LTEM or 5G when eventually launches. You're going to have a connection before these devices and that money goes right into these private companies. We believe that being able to reduce those costs, save taxpayers money, as well as give control, really back to municipalities is something that is really important. We believe there's a big space for this technology there.

Tony: Yes, I absolutely agree with you, Chris, that just the outlook on the smart, anything, smart cities, smart farming, whatever it may be, the connection and the technology within those connections and telematics is really a big part of where we're going in the future. It definitely sounds like these mesh networks, being able to cut any hard wiring and let these mesh networks grow upon each other the way they're designed to do.

It's definitely a fit in the agriculture industry. Now that we know a little bit about what a mesh network is and where it's- why it's relevant to the ag industry. Why don't you guys tell us a little bit about your company, your organization of Orbis Mesh? Give us a little background and what you do at Orbis Mesh?

Gerry: The company was started back in 2018, with the idea of taking Bluetooth radio technology, which we're all familiar with from our cell phone and our headphones and applying that low-cost, reliable, robust technology to an industrial application and the founder of the company really wanted to do something that was good for the world, good for the population. The thought that saving water might be something that we could focus on let us to take the radio technology and look at applying it into industrial sensor applications, particularly irrigation, and agriculture.

We've built that technology to the point now where we have deployed a number of these radios out in the farms and irrigation applications. As we've been doing that, we've come to realize that the system we've got is actually quite powerful and quite flexible whereby we can be used to control a wide range of devices, air conditioning systems, heating systems, solar lighting systems, parking systems, anything that right now is dependent on having wires run to it, which in an outdoor environment is expensive and a pain, or applications where you're currently not monitoring anything and you wish you could.

With two little radios, it's really easy to set up that monitoring capability. We've got ourselves to a point where we've deployed our first systems. Now we're looking at how we ramp that up to provide coverage to more geographic areas across North America and into more industries where they could benefit from a radio system.

Tony: With Orbis Mesh, you guys are offering these radios, very small radios, like you said, utilizing Bluetooth type technology. Are there any services that go along with the hardware that you offer or are you guys strictly a hardware company?

Gerry: We are offering the complete system, so we've got the radio that connects to the humidity or soil moisture sensor. It interfaces to the irrigation controller or the water control valve. It also has the ability to connect into a gateway to take all the data that we collect and feed that over the internet up to a real-time display that's available by a URL on a website.

We offer radio, the interface to other devices, the firmware to send all these messages back and forth in a secure encrypted format, then the software to display all of this in real time, so that if you're a farmer or a researcher, you know what's going on in your farm, and you have the ability to send messages back down to your devices if you want to irrigate it or turn on the heater if the field is getting cold.

Tony: Just for clarification, you guys are essentially able to take your radios and connect them to any sort of a third party sensor, correct? You do not build the sensors you are just on the radio end of things.

Gerry: That's correct. Effectively, what we have done is we've made the radio equivalent to a piece of wire. If you have a signal that you want to feedback to a controller, instead of using a wire, we feed it into the radio. If you have a control you want to send out from the irrigation controller to turn something on, feed it over the radio. We can take any type of signal, analog or digital and send it back to the controller, or we can take a signal from the controller and send it out to the actual device. We are trying to use industry standards for those interfaces. As such, that enables us to connect to any kind of sensor for any kind of industry.

Tony: With the extreme amount of opportunity, you guys have there working with third-party sensors and any sort of a signal. Does Orbis Mesh have any future plans to continue growing in the agriculture industry?

Gerry: I think the Long-Term Evolution is today we are selling systems to firms and irrigation applications. I think we have a uniqueness in our technology that could enable us ultimately to partner up with the major irrigation controller companies and simply say, "Why don't you put this technology inside of your irrigation system and provide your customers with an alternative to having to fire up everything from the valves and the sensors back to your controller?"

Tony: Yes. Again, definitely opportunity there to grow your business and partner with some of the large manufacturers within the ag industry. Now, you guys are a fairly young company, but you have had many opportunities and you've had a lot of stuff out there. Why don't you share a success story that you guys have had in growing that you've done with your organization?

Gerry: One of the first applications we undertook was to do a deployment with a local university. The University of British Columbia here in Vancouver, British Columbia, is one of the larger universities in Canada. It has a whole faculty focused on agriculture. We approached them simply to see whether or not we could get some of our radios deployed in the field to give us some real-world experience. When I met with the professor at the Agriculture Department, he very quickly agreed that the radio system made life a lot simpler than trying to deploy cables in the field. Certainly, that gets in the way of the actual farming operation if you've got cables deployed.

They really wanted to have more real-time data that enable them to do precision agriculture. He was quite keen to deploy our radios in order to help us out and also to give him better data for the research. Once we had deployed the radio system last year, we learned that in addition to just monitoring crop growth, today, we're actually doing a five-year study on the greenhouse gases emitted on a typical firm.

We were able to work with them with some of the sensors they already had wired out in the field, to give them better data as to how greenhouse gases were being produced both by the crop and by the soil to enable them to do better research and also to collect data from additional kinds of sensors from the ones that they had currently deployed. That certainly gave us insights as to how we could make a better product. It supported them in their research.

We expect that we will continue to partner with the university over the long term as we evolve, our product will go back out to them with enhancements with their like. I'm sure every time we have something new, they'll go, "That's great. Could we now do this?" We'll just be in a perpetual loop of making a better product that's more flexible.

Chris: One thing I want to add to that is University of British Columbia, it's agricultural faculty. It's called the Faculty of Land and Food Systems. It's ranked, I believe, within the top 20. or top 30 agricultural faculties for research in the world. To be able to work with an essentially that prestigious of a faculty, to have them be very interested and not just interested but wanting more of our technology is a very big accomplishment.

Tony: Yes, I know. Working with universities, especially those very accredited agriculture universities, it is such a great thing and there's so much opportunity when you're doing research or studies of any sort to be able to partner with them. Here at RDO Equipment, we got some opportunity to work with a few educational institutions. It is a great thing to have within the industry. Now as you guys grow as a company, where can people go to learn more about Orbis Mesh? Who can they talk to?

Chris: Really the best resource for Orbis Mesh is our website, You can also contact us on our twitter @orbismesh. Our contact information is through our website, you can call us, you can email us. We're ready and happy to talk with really anyone, whether they have just questions about the technology or looking to deploy it. Those will be the best ways to really learn more about our products.

Tony: I would just like to thank you, Chris and Gerry, for taking some time to sit down with me and talk about this. Until this podcast came about, I had no idea what a mesh network was and learning from you guys it really does fit the agriculture industry. It's really fun to learn about new types of technologies like this. Thanks again for doing this.

Want more Episodes? Learn more about the Agriculture Technology Podcast

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