Small sensors. Big farms.

What we hope to learn from 5 urban acres

🚩 Milestone - DirtSat in the Big Apple

DirtSat deployed a second Proof of Concept (PoC) in New York City in mid-May. Three rooftop locations across Queens and Brooklyn serve as the backdrop for our next IoT data capture and analytics discovery, totaling 5.6 farmed acres (≈ 2.3 hectares).

We’ll be running a battery of tests over the next three months, capturing the peak summer growing season in the US northeast. Thanks to the fantastic team at Brooklyn Grange Farm, we’ve been given an opportunity to test the sensors in an extremely dense urban environment.

Brooklyn Grange operates the largest rooftop soil farms in the US and ranks in the top three globally. Even more impressive, it does so sustainably, harvesting upwards of 100k lbs (45,000kg) of organic produce annually.

Early feedback has proven what most NYC dwellers already know - cell service can be challenging. Even outdoors, on the rooftops, the sheer magnitude of building geometries and building materials can render certain areas devoid of reliable connection.

For the sensors, that hasn’t translated into any data capture or analytics issues, but it does mean we’ve seen some delayed syncs (eg. the sensor transmitting its scheduled hourly data to the cloud). Even with the use of narrowband (NB-IoT) which is a low power wide-area network (LPWAN), the density of big cities can have an interesting effect.


Why not use Wi-Fi?

Wi-Fi is a local area network (LAN), which means you get great coverage in a limited area. Once a device leaves the area, it loses connection immediately, which creates significant design limitations. This is especially applicable for mobility IoT deployments, but what about stationary Ag-IoT?

With traditional agriculture, LPWAN makes a lot of sense because you’re deploying devices in remote field locations with little to no Wi-Fi coverage. Because of that, most agriculture field sensors currently operating in the market are designed to connect to cellular (NB-IoT, or LTE-M) networks.

It’s not just remote operational benefits for cellular: LPWAN provides three major functionality differences:

  1. Low power means the device’s longevity can be maximized - ROI

  2. All cellular data is encrypted by default - Security

  3. Deeper coverage can be provided in hard to reach places - Capacity

As DirtSat moves forward, a Wi-Fi enabled IoT device may offer better reliability of connection, but it will have to be weighed against increased power demand and security concerns as outlined above.

The growth of 5G networks offers some interesting options that will be carefully explored, especially regarding sensor-level analytics, security and latency. Ultimately, the feedback we receive from urban producers, combined with the desired data delivery cadence, will drive the integration of a network connectivity framework.

Any hiccups with geospatial data capture?

So far, so good! As with the IoT segment, it was equally important for us to test the ability of geospatial data and analytics capabilities on these rooftops. Due to the presence of multiple crops grown in small areas (intercropping), we were concerned that the NDVI and Chlorophyll Index readings might prove difficult to extrapolate. However:

Early returns are showing high-level consistency with ground truthing feedback from farm managers.


The value we derive from this PoC is in seeing how any number of factors come into play, and expanding a roadmap to help drive the next steps of DirtSat’s technology development. Combined with returns from our earlier PoC, in the San Francisco Bay Area, we’ve made substantial progress toward identifying and mobilizing those next steps.

This puts us on a clear path toward an MVP, as we are currently developing two technology verticals simultaneously: Index (GIS) and Monitor (GeoAI & IoT). We’re excited about what we’ve accomplished thus far, and continue to push the limits of our technological capabilities to create a climate resilient solution helping cities turbocharge their food production capacity.

Next up…

I’ll be looking to tie in the subjects I’ve covered in the past three newsletters (geospatial intelligence, IoT, urban agriculture) and zero in on Smart Cities. Smart City deployments are systematized, synthesized, and scalable approaches to achieving quality of life improvements with measurable results.

Thank you for reading! Questions, tips, or feedback? Just hit reply. Follow us on Twitter — DirtSat is @DirtSatHQ and I’m @CMTiballi