The vision for the Internet of Things is to inject precision into existing processes across industry, be it agriculture, health, automotive or industrial. But it’s one thing for IoT advances to look attractive on paper. Quite another to deliver, as the saying goes, in the field.
Like, say, a tomato field.
Take, for example, Analog Devices’ Internet of Tomatoes fields. ADI’s project, one of industry’s longest-running IoT field (yes, I said it) trials, initially was conceived as a sensor-to-cloud project to help farmers better manage their crops. It has achieved that. But along the way, it has evolved into something more.
Indeed, it has become a proving ground of sorts for new IoT technologies. In the latest incarnation, the Internet of Tomatoes is helping to validate how applicable blockchain, the latest fintech technology, is to other industries. Team members are starting to deploy blockchain as a trusted ledger to help the ecosystem validate claims like grown closest to market, freshness and taste.
In the first phase of the Internet of Tomatoes, project leaders used in-field temperature, humidity and light sensors to help farmers pinpoint how much to water their tomatoes, and to hone in on the best time to apply pesticides. It was successful, as the Master Mechanic has written. But the team didn’t stop there.
At a time when the Analog Garage was incubating technology to enable handheld spectrometers, the Internet of Tomatoes team built a cloud analytics platform that can predict how good a given tomato will taste.
Now, project leaders would like to link the two processes, and broaden the platform so it can measure and track the tomato’s entire life cycle, from seed to salad. Or sandwich. From there, they envision the platform will one day identify the tastiest tomatoes while they’re still in the field. And they will track them as they pass through distribution centers and into restaurants and grocery stores.
And if they can get enough growers to participate, it could eventually develop into a certification system that identifies the best, so farmers could get compensated for prize tomatoes from chefs, foodies and others who are willing to pay a premium for them.
To do that successfully, they will need an accounting system that is not only secure, but trusted up and down the food chain, so to speak. They’re using blockchain. Or, the Blockchain of Tomatoes, as project leaders call it.
Francis Gouillart just spoke about the opportunities and challenges ahead for the Internet of Tomatoes project at the FLEX Conference and Expo in Monterey, Calif., last month. Gouillart is Chief Food Officer at ripe.io, a blockchain startup with aspirations to become the de facto ledger of record for agriculture and, eventually, food.
Image: Francis Gouillart
Blockchain, the enabling technology for digital currencies like Bitcoin, has been gaining popularity as a record-keeping tool for other applications as well, from industry-standard groups to healthcare exchanges. Blockchain has proven to be a trustworthy ledger because data is distributed across a growing number of sites that all independently validate records. Further, each record builds on the last. So even if a majority of community members agree to alter a historical record, they could not do it without rewriting each subsequent record as well.
Analog Devices, together with Gouillart, has been putting together a pilot ecosystem for Blockchain of Tomatoes in New England. Team leaders have enlisted farmers, produce distributors, retailers and restaurants. In addition to in-field measurements and spectrometer readings, they are also recording transportation conditions, including temperature and length of time refrigerated. The goal is to build a trusted scorecard that validates farmers’ claims of taste, freshness, locally produced – and however else they might like to position their crop.
Ultimately, the blockchain could be used to build trust in every grocery store aisle. The system could be used, for example, to identify same-day freshness of seafood, meat and poultry, and to know food is free of unwanted additives or processing. The possibilities are seemingly endless.
Can you think of other communities with sensor-to-cloud applications that might benefit from blockchain technology? Let us know!