The Internet of Things is often associated with high-tech industry and Smart City solutions and one could be forgiven for thinking that it is only really applicable to those problem domains. However, IOT is transforming industries and markets far beyond the narrow focus it is so often given. Over the past 12 months Shaping Cloud have partnered with Green Collar Foods to implement a Microsoft IOT solution that transforms one of the oldest industries in the world – Agriculture.

While the indoor growing industry is well established the market remains dominated by a small number of agricultural experts running and managing facilities with proprietary & expensive technology equipment at their disposal. In much the same way that cloud computing levelled the playing field for software vendors, Green Collar Foods believe that IOT can democratise indoor growing, specifically within deprived cities across the US and the UK.

Their innovative business model, creates a franchise-model for farming that gives each franchisee:

  • A manageable facility of 5-6,000 sf. to grow produce hydroponically while also re-purposing a property within an area of urban deprivation
  • Access to affordable and scalable PaaS GCF AgCloud technology platform complete with near real-time data to compare, share and understand how to produce a range of nutrient dense crops that can be sold at a fair margin, and
  • Access to world class University and Agricultural expertise within local and national Universities who are participating and supporting the aims of both local GCF owners and their own students and facility focused on STEM and agricultural research.

In the next five years they intend to create 250+ new inner city jobs and redevelop 200,000 sq. ft. of blighted urban infrastructure building off the success of their inaugural Detroit location, supplying millions of pounds of high-value specialty crops to local institutional customers. All of this is made possible by utilising Microsoft IOT solutions.

After undertaking an initial Architecture Design Session with GCF it became clear that the biggest problem they had in rolling out the platform was how to ensure that the different farms could be run and managed by people who may not have the agriculture and hydroponic background you would normally expect. It was vital that the technology platform delivered a “virtual assistant” that could provide them with all of the metrics they needed to maximise their yields.

Working with the Engineers at GCF, Shaping Cloud have designed the hardware of each GCF Aeroponic System to be fully integrated into the GCF AgCloud Platform, which sits on Microsoft Azure. This cloud-based solution ensures that they have a scalable and secure environment to capture and transmit valuable urban agriculture grow data from GCF Hubs worldwide via embedded monitoring/sensor technology.

The GCF AgCloud leverages 3 key components of the Azure IOT offering:

1. Microsoft Azure IoT Hub

IoT Hub enables reliable and secure bidirectional communications between the GCF grow partner devices and the solution back end. This communication is critical to provide reliable device-to-cloud and cloud-to-device messaging at any scale. Most importantly, the GCF IoT Hub enables secure communications using per-device security credentials and access control.

2. Stream Analytics

Stream Analytics lets users rapidly gain real-time insights from devices, infrastructure, and applications from Internet of Things (IoT) scenarios, exactly like GCF AgCloud.
Stream Analytics processes ingested events in real-time, comparing multiple streams or comparing streams with historical values and models. It detects anomalies, transforms incoming data, triggers an alert when a specific error or condition appears in the stream, and displays this real-time data in the GCF AgCloud dashboard.

3. Machine Learning

The GCF AgCloud is connected to the predictive analytics suite on the Azure Machine Learning framework. Machine Learning is invaluable to GCF Hub owners: As crop growing data is collected from GCF Hubs across a variety of climates, conditions, and countries, the GCF AgCloud begins to populate with very specific data that can be used to intelligently predict efficient growing patterns and offer additional growing insights.

Machine Learning brings the GCF AgCloud to “life” with actionable recommendations, vastly increasing its value. It gives GCF Hub owners the ability to modify their growing methods based on thousands of harvests outside of their own. A true “learn from each other” mentality and a unique GCF selling point.

The overall objective of the GCF AgCloud is to lessen the learning curve for operating a Green Collar Foods’ establishment. The AgCloud serves as a learning platform, which allows GCF to recruit potential owners and/or operators who may lack a strong agricultural background. Green Collar Foods at the core is a learning organization, which aims to equip our prospective partners with tools to augment their agriculture experience. The Green Collar AgCloud mitigates the risk of establishing low-cost indoor farming operations in urban areas of economic deprivation, by decreasing the agriculture learning barrier though.

250+

new inner city jobs

200,000

sq. ft. of blighted urban infrastructure building that will be redeveloped

$7bn

size of the indoor farming market