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Development of a remote wireless monitoring system for large farms
Rootman, Adriaan Cornelius
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This research project addresses the unique challenges of extensive farming in terms of monitoring and controlling remote equipment or events. Poorly maintained roads and escalating fuel costs increase difficulty of farming and the time spent on physically monitoring remote sites further reduces financial yields. The research showed that there are very few solutions that implement wireless or electronic technology to overcome the challenges associated with these isolated and arid areas and that a low-cost, long range wireless telemetry solution that is easy to use would be beneficial for the extensive farming industry. It was therefore the aim of this project to develop a remote monitoring and controlling solution that implements wireless technology to convey information of activities around the farm utilising electronic means. To be able to successfully develop a wireless telemetry solution that will accurately meet the needs of this specific sector of industry, market research was conducted. To guide the research, the QFD (quality function deployment) process for product development has been implemented. The research consisted out of various aspects including a survey, financial considerations and international comparisons. The research also aided in the understanding of the day-to-day activities and also the physical parameters of extensive farms. Also, currently available technologies and products were evaluated to establish whether similarities exist that will aid in the development of a new product. The development process was based on the results obtained in the market research and resulted in a wireless telemetry solution that overcame all the design challenges and proved to be technically feasible, successfully addressing the application requirements. Zigbee technology was utilized for wireless communication because it provided an off-the-shelf solution with a number of readily available development platforms from various technology providers. A communication range of up to 6 kilometres with a transmitted power of 11dBm was achieved for point-to-point communication and a mesh network topology has been implemented for even longer range and complete coverage on farms. Various types of measurements have been catered for, with custom-designed instrumentation which enabled measurements such as water levels, movement and analogue signals. Also, a basic user interface was developed to enable the user to monitor or control the equipment or events remotely from a personal computer, locally or even over the internet. The results of this research project showed that by carefully selecting available technologies and understanding the application, it is possible to develop a solution that addresses the monitoring and controlling needs associated with extensive farming. The wireless telemetry system that was developed resulted in a saving equal to 10% of the total expenses of the farms per year. The telemetry system is therefore a financially feasible solution with a payback period of less than 1 year and far below the initial estimated budget. Without the need to physically monitoring equipment and events, an increase in productivity and the expansion of the overall enterprise is a further benefit added unto the monetary savings. In addition to the financial benefits of implementing new wireless technology, this is an opportunity to contribute to a cleaner and more sustained future as a legacy for the next generation by reducing the carbon footprint of the farm.