Washington, D.C., suburb to become a lab for internet of things projects
A suburb of Washington, D.C., is growing into a living laboratory for “internet of things” technology projects. Set in Montgomery County, Maryland, Thingstitute is set to be an agricultural testbed to help farmers use data to become more “productive, prosperous and viable.” The goal of the project is to determine what services and support Montgomery can provide farmland that makes up one-third of the county.
“Farmers care what’s happening at their farms — ground temperatures, weather conditions, the more local the better,” said Dan Hoffman, Montgomery County’s chief innovation officer and Thingstitute leader. “A lot of farmers also have reporting requirements: a dairy has significant federal and state requirements regarding milk production. We want to explore services that may make it easier and faster to collect the data to be compliant with those regulations.”
The result of this project could involve better use of pesticides or more precise nutrient management practices.
“At the end of the day, we want to make our farmers as profitable as possible by helping them be as smart as possible,” Hoffman said. “We want to better understand how we can use technology to help county farmers.”
The four farmers voluntarily participating in the Thingstitute agriculture testbed will allow sensor devices to be deployed on their farms. They were purposefully selected with diverse operations, experience levels and use of technology.
One is traditional farmer whose family has farmed for several generations growing squash and pumpkins; another is a startup farmer who is establishing a new orchard for specialty persimmons; a Local Roots Farms repurposes unused shipping containers to grow greens and berries, providing innovative greenhouses for urban settings; and Woodbourne Creamery at Rock Hill Orchard is the first all pasture, robotic milking facility in North America. This dairy and processing facility has a “voluntary milking system,” which allows cows to be milked when they want, typically between two to three times per day.
The Thingstitute is a continuation of an initiative looking to make agriculture more of a priority for the county. It recently announced plans to move its agricultural services function into a standalone county office to enable a focus on its mission and provide better services. With one-third of the county’s land area – 93,000 acres in all – set aside for farming, the Office of Agriculture provides services to support and promote the viability of its farmers, which employ 10,000-plus residents on 540 farms and 350 horticultural enterprises, contributing more than $287 million annually to the local economy.
The county is partnering with a number of companies involved in the “internet of things,” including UMD, Eurotech, Microsoft, Patton Electronics, Link Labs, Earth Networks, IoT Dev Labs and FiberTower.