What is Telematics, and What Does it Have to Do with IoT and the Cloud?


What is Telematics, and What Does it Have to Do with IoT and the Cloud?

By Ben Craker, AGCO Corporation and Precision Ag Council Vice-Chair

It seems you can hardly look through an ag publication or website today without seeing articles about new Internet of Things (IoT) platforms, connected devices and all sorts of things happening in the cloud. The need to feed a growing population and the understanding that technology will help us close the gap laid out in the FAO 2050 Food Challenge has led to an unprecedented level of interest from traditionally non-ag companies in the ag industry. They’re looking to apply their technological expertise to help farmers be more efficient and productive while having a smaller environmental footprint. One of the biggest ways people are looking to advance food production and efficiency is through data analysis, but have you ever stopped to consider where all that data will come from?

In many AgGateway working groups, it is easy to get so focused on the inter-operability between different systems, data formats and business processes; it is easy to assume the data will just be there waiting for us to figure out how to get it from one system to another. Going forward, telematics is going to be a foundational piece of the puzzle needed to get the data everyone needs for tracking sustainability, optimizing seed and chemical recommendations, and managing farm operations more efficiently.

A quick search on the internet doesn’t provide a very clear definition of the term “telematics”. This is likely because it means slightly different things depending on perspective or even where you are in the supply chain. Essentially, telematics are the wireless communications between things (i.e., tractors, weather stations, grain dryers, soil probes, irrigation pivot controllers, semi-trucks) and the internet. From this communication we get the term “IoT” – It is really just all these devices connected to the internet. These devices are intended to share what they are doing and what they are observing to the internet (also known as the cloud), and many of them actually can do something if you talk back to them.

For example, a grain dryer can be remotely accessed via a website or app to see how it is performing, what the moisture of corn is going in versus out, the temperature of the burner, etc. But many grain dryers can also be adjusted remotely. If the grain temp is a little too high, the user can tap a few buttons on their phone and turn it down from the far side of the globe. This is all enabled by telematics. Additionally, the transfer of work orders or prescription application maps to machines or irrigation equipment in the field and the transfer of work records or as applied data back to the farm office is also enabled by telematics.

As you would imagine with the rapid growth in this area of connectivity, there are plenty of challenges, several of which AgGateway is helping to standardize to make the IoT for agriculture a stable environment, easy for different people to derive value from. Through the WAVE portion of the SPADE3 precision ag project, the team is working to help focus industry efforts on a standard for how equipment will transfer this data from the field to the internet, as well as between different websites. Additionally, the PAIL irrigation project is working to establish standards for how irrigation systems will communicate, as well as in-field sensors like weather stations and soil moisture probes.

Another big challenge for making telematics work for ag is something President Trump recently made reference to: rural broadband and cellular coverage. This is a key hurdle to overcome before more widespread adoption of telematics devices can occur in agriculture. It doesn’t do a farmer much good to have a device that he can check in on and control from an app if that device has no signal to get on the internet in the first place.

This is an exciting time to be in the ag industry! With all the focus and investment in technology, there is huge potential to help make farming more efficient, data-driven and to document all the environmentally sustainable practices already going on. Many of the new tools and technologies driving this next revolution in ag will be enabled by the IoT – that is, millions of little sensors, devices and machines connected to the internet through something called telematics. Hopefully, you now have a little better understanding of the IoT, the cloud, telematics and the role AgGateway is playing to help make sure the promise of these new technologies is realized within the industry.