Crop Protection: Efficient Pest Monitoring With Mobile IoT Technologies

The yellow tray goes digital: with the Magic Trap, Bayer AG's Innovation Lab ensures efficient pest detection and crop protection in the canola field. Image: Bayer AG

What do the canola stem weevil, the rapeseed flea or the cabbage shoot weevil have to do with sophisticated computer algorithms, yellow shells, cameras, and mobile communications? It's all about efficient pest control: intelligent software combined with smart pest traps can optimize field monitoring and enhance our ability to crops that are critical to the global food chain. In a model project with Bayer AG's Crop Protection Innovation Lab, 1NCE is providing global mobile connectivity for automatic pest detection and crop protection in canola fields.

Too much, too little, the wrong product at the wrong time: all this has a direct impact on the environment, yield, and costs for the farmer. Modern IoT technologies can be used to further optimize difficult decision-making processes in crop protection.

In canola cultivation, the use of yellow trays in the fields have been established for years. They are used to identify and count insect pests, helping farmers evaluate potential damage and decide on the quantity and distribution of pesticides. With modern IoT technologies, these evaluation processes can be further optimized. The Bayer Innovation Lab for Crop Protection developed the MagicTrap for this purpose.

Crop protection: Use of yellow trays in canola cultivation

The use of yellow trays in canola cultivation is a tried and tested method. At least one or two yellow trays are placed in each field. The yellow color of the tray imitates the canola flower, attracting potential pests. The yellow tray contains water with detergent added to break the surface tension. Pests sink into the water and can be counted. There is a grid on the tray to protect beneficial insects such as bees or bumblebees. Depending on the infestation, farmers can now decide if the use of pesticide is needed, and how much.

Manual evaluation vs. remote monitoring

To be effective, the yellow trays must be evaluated regularly, which involves a lot of manual, physical effort. During sunny and warm weather conditions, each tray must be visited daily, evaluated and, if necessary, cleaned. Farmers often reduce the number of yellow trays to keep the effort manageable. But fewer trays also mean less accurate pest detection.

The Bayer Innovation Lab has developed an intelligent version of the yellow tray, the MagicTrap -- a smart insect trap equipped with a camera and minicomputer that photographs the inside of the tray at regular intervals and automatically evaluates its contents. The results are immediately visible to farmers via the MagicScout app, saving countless hours of unnecessary trips and inspections.

Magic Trap evaluates pest infestation already on site

The MagicTrap is powered by a solar panel on the top and an integrated rechargeable battery. Most of the time, the device is in Deep Sleep mode, consuming no or minimal energy. Once a day, the minicomputer is supplied with current weather data from a central computer.

Automatic pest detection with global connectivity. The MagicScout app uses an algorithm to evaluate the infestation already on site. Image: Bayer AG

If the weather conditions suggest increased insect flight, the camera shoots one or more photos per day of the yellow tray’s contents. An algorithm then evaluates the image data on site and performs a pre-qualification by counting the number of insects caught and the species collected. A compressed version of the image and the data will then be made available in the MagicScout app, allowing an easier process for determining when manual cleaning of the tray is necessary. In addition, the app is also suitable for detecting weeds and plant diseases.

Smart Farming: The ideal use case for global mobile IoT connectivity

The yellow trays are to be used worldwide. Market launch in Germany is planned later in 2022, followed by other European countries as well as Asia and North and South America soon after. The MagicTrap can be used depending on the season and growth phase. In Europe, that’s mainly in the spring up to the rapeseed harvest, but also again in late summer and fall when the new rapeseed is sown.

The key to the MagicTrap is the simplicity it offers for busy farmers. Unpack, set up, QR scan, go. That’s all they need to do.

Integrated connectivity is the only basic pre-requirement. Alternative radio technologies such as LoRA or SigFox, which require the establishment and operation of local network infrastructures, were ruled out for being too complicated and ultimately, too expensive.

Cellular communications are the only globally available and standardized radio technology that promises reliable and secure connectivity over long distances.

Flexible deployment requires a flexible product

When it came to choosing a provider, Bayer's Innovation Lab opted for 1NCE and its Industrial eSIM , which is permanently integrated in the hardware. The eSIM is proven to be particularly robust, especially outdoors. But there were other important points to consider when choosing a provider.

Fabian Born, product manager at Bayer, recalls: "For our project, we need a mobile offering without complicated long-term or volume contracts. The yellow trays are only used seasonally, so a contract with monthly fees is counterproductive. Also, we can't tell in advance exactly how much data volume each device will really need."

The life of the yellow trays is calculated to be at least five years. 1NCE already fully covers the cost of communications over the lifecycle of the device with a small one-time payment, in more than 110 countries worldwide.

"We designed our Magic Trap to transmit the photos in a compressed manner. The software already evaluates the pest infestation on site, and the photo is only used for control purposes and to improve the algorithm," says Born and adds: "The smart yellow traps are to be used worldwide in the future. With 1NCE, we have the necessary connectivity everywhere without incurring additional roaming charges. The 1NCE API and portal are another plus, making it very easy to integrate device management into our own systems."

Lowering barriers to entry for mobile connectivity

Bayer's yellow-shell project is a prime example of why mobile operators need to rethink old fashioned connectivity offerings. "Classic pricing models with contract periods, volume tariffs or even flat rates of only around 10 euros per year are showstoppers when it comes to developing mobile IoT solutions," says 1NCE CEO Alexander P. Sator. "When developing smart products, it’s very difficult predict exactly when and where customers will use the solution or how much data they will actually consume in the end. Products that require consumers to take care of connectivity themselves are also doomed to fail. You might as well sell cars without tires. In short, it's about lowering the entry barriers."

Matt Hatton, founder of Transforma Insights , a market research firm specializing in IoT, agrees "Lower prices will lead to much higher adoption and open up new opportunities, including reducing the market share currently dominated by short-range technologies ."

Scalability matters

But connectivity at a low price isn't the only thing needed to make smart IoT projects a success. Another important factor is scalability. Many IoT projects fail because implementation turns out to be too complicated and lengthy. Successful go-to-market strategies include efficient device onboarding and management, easy cloud integration, and global availability across all mobile technologies.

1NCE supports companies here with numerous tools that are available free of charge with connectivity. Those working with Amazon Web Services (AWS) benefit from automatic device identification via the SIM card (SIM-as-an-Identity), optimization of data transmission using "Data Broker." This helps maximize device battery life by minimizing data volume during transmission with lean protocols. The Rules Engine, in turn, supports automated control and configuration of IoT devices. Last but not least, the 1NCE SDK helps with device configuration by means of ready-made blueprints.

Simplicity: What applies to end customers also applies to IoT development

Scan the QR code and get started: The simplicity that end customers demand from MagicTrap is also what Bayer needs when implementing global connectivity. Image: Bayer AG

When developing the MagicTrap, it was particularly important for Bayer AG's Innovation Lab that the product could be activated as quickly and easily as possible. Farmers set up the trap, scan the device's QR code and can use it immediately via the MagicScout app. "As easy as the device needs to be usable for our end customers, we as developers need the ease of implementing global connectivity," said Fabian Born. "1NCE proved to be the ideal provider for our project."