Animal-Based WiFi: $250K Awarded To See If Sheep And Other Livestock Can Be Interconnected For Digital Villages

Can farm animals and other livestock commonly found in the villages help connect the rural world with internet? The question is being tackled by a team of researchers at a university.

A project that wants to turn farmers’ fields into digital smart zones with the help of livestock has been launched in North Wales. The plan is to create an intricate network by utilizing majority of the rural features from sheep to riverbanks so that the countryside can benefit from the digital revolution just as the cities have.

The project isn’t meant to actually bring the internet to the village folk, but the proposal is more along the line of digital farming involving fitting digital collars that could track animals, soil sensors that warn about impending erosion and buoys in and around riverbanks to predict floods. The project also envisions outfitting badgers with smart tags that could serve as an early warning system for bovine TB.

Project leader Prof Gordon Blair and his team at Lancaster University have been awarded £171,000 ($250,000) to assess if the Internet of Things (IOT) concept can be extended to rural areas. IOT technology essentially allows everyday objects, from fridges to doorbells and lights, to be controlled remotely using mobile phones. However, a little tweak can allow a two-way communication that can enable these mundane devices to talk back, which can be translated by smartphone apps into useable information.

The project has already begun in December with sensors deployed on riverbanks to monitor rainfall. Similar sensors will eventually be placed at other locations. Similarly, sheep will be gradually equipped with electronic collars to monitor their movements. Researchers hope to understand their grazing patterns and gather some valuable data that can be used for optimizing agricultural practices,

“Wherever they [sheep] congregate, whether it’s at feeding toughs of at the side of streams and rivers, they will tend to urinate there, and this can cause real hotspots for pollution.”

Interestingly, the team hopes to create biological WiFi hotspots since the technology need only be tweaked again to connect to the World Wide Web. Speaking about the project Prof. Blair said,

“Cities have been the focus of much of the boom in this type of technology – it has been used to keep traffic flowing on our roads, monitor air pollution and even help us find a parking spot. But the countryside faces challenges of its own, from subtle environmental changes to catastrophic events such as flooding.”

Fitting connected devices on livestock isn’t new. Mobile provider EE installed WiFi on “fake” cows to act as hotspots, while sheep in Yorkshire were fitted with cameras to capture the Tour De France as it traveled through the county.

[Image Credit | Getty Images]