Farming support platform for smart agriculture development enabled by IAR Systems’ solutions.
Since 2019, NTT DOCOMO, a leading telecommunications company in Japan, has been offering its Farm Assist platform for farming support. The company has been using IAR Systems' solutions for development of this platform.
Farm Assist collects data obtained by sensors installed in fields (on farms) in the company's cloud via access points, enabling users to check and manage the state of the fields from smartphones, computers, and other devices. Day-to-day farming task records, future production plans, and other information can be managed together, so that various operations relating to farming can be streamlined, to achieve highly productive and strategically sound business agriculture.
In this story, Masaru Ohzeki, Senior manager Smart-life Planning Department at NTT DOCOMO, INC, and Sakurako Tamura in the same division, are talking about why they have chosen IAR Embedded Workbench for Arm for developing the sensors and other embedded devices that constitute Farm Assist.
Smart-life Planning Department
The Smart-life Planning Department is an entity within NTT DOCOMO.
What kind of role within NTT DOCOMO is played by the Smart-life Planning Department that developed "Farm Assist"?
Masaru Ohzeki, Senior manager Smart-life Planning Department at NTT DOCOMO, comments: The Smart-life Planning Department is an entity within NTT DOCOMO that monitors the smart life domain. Its role is, through the use of communications that are the principal business of our company, to bring more abundance into customers' lives, resolve problems of society, and so on.
The smart life domain is divided into several areas, one of which is the food tech business. This is, as the name suggests, an entity that is focused on food. Food is, of course, indispensable to consumers, and all of us purchase and consume food every day. In order to bring more abundance to the areas of people's lives that concerns food, we provide services that allow people to make reservations and orders, and settle accounts from smartphone apps. We also promoting a system that will provide more convenient meal packages.
Ohezki continues: But that's not all. We are also providing help to the sites where food is produced, upstream from its purchase. The overarching "food" business spans a supply chain extending from production to sales and to consumption. And production sites, that is, the primary producers such as farms or fisheries are the foundation of everything. Among these, we focused on agriculture, and maintaining and expanding production sites.
The main premise is the utilization of communication technology
Ohzeki again: Utilization of communication technology in systems is of course another important mission of our company, but we are also providing solutions that do not use communications tech. For example, our department is also selling hydroponic culture kits as another solution. By combining such solutions integrated with communications technology and applications into a package that make them more convenient, our goal is to facilitate market entry by new farmers and persons from different industries.
Why hydroponic culture?
Ohzeki comments: Soil culture, in which fertile soil is used to produce delicious crops, also constitutes a major component of agriculture; but hydroponics offers several features, such as ease of uniform cultivation management over a relatively broad area, and the ability to easily streamline operations. Such cultivation management mainly employs properties of the water (water temperature, oxygen content, pH) as well as external temperature, illumination, and the like as managed parameters; but measuring these values using separate portable instruments each time requires inordinate time and trouble. Hence communications are applied to sensing devices and similar measures taken to enable appropriate adjustment of cultivation conditions while automatically ascertaining the cultivation environment.
In contrast with soil, I think hydroponics is a good fit with such agricultural ICT, and results in a method of agriculture in which management is easy. In addition to new farmers, such hydroponic cultivation is also widely employed in businesses such as welfare-farming cooperatives.
Unified management of farming-related data
What kind of system is Farm Assist?
Sakurako Tamura, Smart-life Planning Department at NTT DOCOMO, INC comments: Farm Assist is a cloud-based service that renders sensor data visible and manages an entire range of data, from agricultural operation plans to management of harvest amounts, sales of harvested crops, and so on.
Sensor devices installed in fields acquire environment data and send the data to the cloud via access points. Data uploaded to the cloud can be viewed on smartphones and on computers. Features include the provision of a replete lineup for use in either hydroponic or soil cultivation; customers can select and use the sensors they need.
What kind of communication technology is used?
Tamura again: We have adopted ZETA, which is one LPWA for IoT communication. ZETA is used between sensor devices and access points, and data accumulated at access points is uploaded to the cloud via an LTE network. Data for transmission is sensor data and the like, constituting small amounts for communication, so that an IoT billing plan can be used.
At the present time, have NTT Docomo realized feedback control by, for example, using data acquired by sensor devices to move actuators?
Tamura comments: Verification experiments were conducted together with the NTT Social Informatics Laboratories, Shizuoka University, and other organizations, and an "AI Irrigation" automated watering function has already been implemented.
Today, the application of feedback is limited to only automated watering, but from now on we intend to pursue practical application of feedback functions such as automated opening and closing of windows in greenhouses and automated temperature adjustment using heaters.
Adopted IAR Systems' IDE in sensor device development
We used IAR Embedded Workbench for Arm. In addition to development of program code for the sensor devices, we used it when writing program code for Arm microcomputers of sensor devices.
Developing with IAR Embedded Workbench
Why choosing a product from IAR Systems?
Ohzeki says: There were two factors that appealed to us. One was the fact that the development tools for embedded devices of IAR Systems included well-tested compiler functions and security functions. Superior tools are necessary for technology development, and if the engineering strengths of our two companies are combined, the resulting synergy should culminate in success. The other factor was that IAR Systems has built relations with customers in a broad range of areas, and so has substantial expertise.
Ohzeki again: In addition, in future it will likely be necessary to introduce edge computing and other features into Farm Assist. At the moment, data acquired by sensor devices and is uploaded to the cloud, and AI is used to make judgments and determine the timing for watering. However, it may not be necessary to upload all of the data to the cloud. For example, if the objective is to deal with pests, then such large amounts of computation ability may not be needed. In such cases, I think in the future it would be worth studying the possibility of placing edge computers between the sensor devices and the cloud.
What about using IAR Embedded Workbench for development of edge computers as well?
Ohzeki says: Of course, I think IAR Systems' solutions are an option. I think that one advantage of the IAR Systems' IDE is that, in microcomputer development for a multivendor environment, work can be performed in the same environment. This has a major impact on productivity, and the IDE is fully provided with the necessary functions, and so I think it can be called a good fit for development.
I think that one advantage of the IAR Systems' IDE is that, in microcomputer development for a multivendor environment, work can be performed in the same environment.
Additional reasons for choosing IAR Systems
In the embedded systems industry, the development tools of IAR Systems are used in an extremely broad range of areas. This was another reason for choosing them.
Compiling in IAR Embedded Workbench for Arm is extremely fast. And, warning functions, which are indispensable to ensure program code quality, are excellent. At NTT DOCOMO, source code quality is extremely important. And, when considering future security implementation and demands for multivendor support, it was necessary to select an IDE that is highly expansible in the initial stages, so we settled with the IAR Systems' IDE.
What security functions have been implemented in the Farm Assist solution?
Tamura: Farm Assist adopts encryption technology and authentication technology developed by the NTT Social Informatics Laboratories. The widely used "PKI" electronic certificates are not employed. Currently, we are manually writing keys used in encryption and authentication, one at a time, into the Arm microcomputers of sensor devices. Hereafter, though, we foresee increases in the number of sensor devices being shipped. In which case, the task of writing keys one by one will be inefficient and will lag behind shipping operations.
With respect to security of edge devices as well, in consideration of firmware updates after operations have begun and other matters, there is a need to generate keys for each unit to be used in encryption and authentication, and so efficiency of key generation and writing is a problem. However, when the server uses electronic certificates, the coexistence of NTT authentication technology with electronic certificates may become an issue.
What kinds of methods are you studying to deal with current problems?
Tamura: As explained before, the current method of implementation is extremely inefficient. For example, if there were a function for efficiently generating keys for each unit and a function for managing them, keys could easily be automatically written to individual sensor devices. This would be hugely useful in mass production of sensors, and so in anticipation of future system updates, we might adopt IAR Systems security solutions which enable efficient implementation of security measures, including in edge devices.