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© youssouf cader dreamstime.com Business | March 04, 2015

IoT, sheep and researchers … Interested?

The concept of The Internet of Things has been around for quite some time and has (however) typically been associated with cities and urban environments. Countryside? - nothing, nada, zilch. But that is to change.
The IoT basically enables object-to-object communication over the internet and real time data monitoring and supports the idea that - eventually - all physical objects communicate data over the internet to other connected devices. From automobiles to thermostats, a lot of things already ‘talk’ to us via the internet. They tell you how they are doing (if you should be interested in knowing). Computer scientist Professor Gordon Blair of Lancaster University thought that rural areas are highly underrated and Wales is mostly known for its landscape, food - and - sheep. Connectivity is not what comes to mind when thinking about rural Wales.

Professor 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 on a busy Saturday afternoon. But the countryside faces challenges of its own, from subtle environmental changes to catastrophic events such as flooding. The possibilities of bringing the Internet of Things to the countryside are limitless. The next step will be to identify exactly what will be of most use in the short term and how we will frame the project.”

He has won GBP 171’495 from the Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council to lead a new project in Conwy, North Wales, which will investigate how the Internet of Things could work in the countryside. Working with partners at the Centre for Ecology and Hydrology, The British Geological Survey and Bangor University, the project launched on December 1 and will run for 18 months.

An Internet of Sheep if you so will

Now: having sheep run around as WiFi hotspots, roaming the Welsh countryside (or any countryside for that matter) and acting as wireless internet transmitters is a funny idea … it is not the research aim of this study however: it is all about gleaning data from the flock. You could say that the sheep are playing Chinese Whisper and, when they come close to a receiver station, all data is transmitted to Professor Blair’s computer. One can only hope that the results make more sense than Chinese Whispers ever did.

Cheap sheep jokes and serious aims

Problems from flooding and agricultural pollution to animal movements and drought could all potentially benefit from smart technology being employed in rural areas. And The Internet of Things, which takes everyday objects and hooks them up to the internet, represents a shift in the way we gather and engage with information. But hills, mountains, trees, valleys … all can cause problems and present challenges when building an adequate network.

So expect to see a few sheep with digital collars, sensors on riverbanks, rainfall and river flow monitors - all could soon form part of the project.
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