Satellite-enabled water monitoring in the Australian Outback

Written by Swarm Technologies

Australia is one of the driest continents in the world, with nearly 70% of its landmass receiving less than 14 inches of annual rainfall. In spite of the dry climate, agriculture is one of Australia’s largest industries. Growing crops and raising livestock in such an arid environment requires farmers to keep a close eye on the amount of water they have available.

Many farmers in Australia rely on Queensland-based Yabby Sensors to measure and manage their water. Yabby’s suite of IoT water management solutions – from rain gauges to tank level monitors to floating water quality sensors – gives farmers greater visibility into the availability and location of water on their land, whether in streams or watering troughs.

While Yabby’s sensors are purpose-built to operate in some of Australia’s most rugged and remote areas, transferring the data they collect back to key stakeholders can be a challenge in such desolate regions that lack existing connectivity infrastructure. Australia’s behemoth cattle stations, for example, are typically located far from populated areas and have poor-to-nonexistent cellular coverage.

While Yabby’s sensors are purpose-built to operate in some of Australia’s most rugged and remote areas, transferring the data they collect back to key stakeholders can be a challenge in such desolate regions. To address this challenge, Yabby turned to Swarm to provide the reliable and affordable remote connectivity they need.

To address this challenge, Yabby turned to Swarm to provide the reliable and affordable remote connectivity they need. Driven by a desire to solve their data transfer challenge quickly, Yabby has developed a custom sensor interface using the Swarm Eval Kit as the backbone of their connectivity solution to enable faster deployment.

Water monitoring in the desert

For Yabby’s agricultural customers, there is no shortage of water sources and supplies that need to be monitored. Crop growers use soil moisture data to inform their irrigation schedule. Farmers with dams and bores need to monitor inflow and levels to know how much water they have available. And perhaps one of Yabby’s most mission-critical applications is ensuring that livestock don’t run out of water.

A Swarm-enabled floating Yabby water sensor

The Australian Outback is cattle country, and farmers in this dry region rely primarily on pumping groundwater to keep their animals alive. If a pump fails or a tank runs dry, cattle can die within days. A huge challenge is that the size of these cattle stations (some are nearly 10,000 square miles) makes it impossible for farmers to check on each watering station in person. Yabby’s IoT sensors take on this monitoring responsibility, measuring rainfall, tank levels, and pump pressure to ensure everything is functioning as normal. But how to transmit this vital information back to farmers across this infamously remote and unconnected region?

A plug-and-play satellite solution for quick deployment

With a pressing need to connect their in-field IoT sensors, Yabby fast-tracked their customer deployments by first developing a sensor interface to the Swarm Eval Kit in advance of designing an integrated product. “We had an immediate need for affordable connectivity in really remote areas,” says Steve Dudgeon, Yabby’s Managing Director. “The Eval Kit is letting us get up and running to do field tests quickly and solve the connectivity issues we have today.”

“We had an immediate need for affordable connectivity in really remote areas,” says Steve Dudgeon, Yabby’s Managing Director. “The Swarm Eval Kit is letting us get up and running to do field tests quickly and solve the connectivity issues we have today.”

A Swarm Eval Kit providing satellite connectivity for a Yabby IoT sensor.

In addition to speed-of-deployment, the Swarm Eval Kit met Yabby’s requirements around price, data volume, and latency during their initial rollouts. “We’re focused on providing a complete, end-to-end monitoring solution for farmers, which sometimes means we need to have multiple types of sensors on a single water tank, for example,” Steve explains. “Swarm gives us the data volumes we need to be able to transmit all this information.” Yabby’s customers sometimes need to transmit hourly, and require frequent enough satellite passes to keep that data timely and relevant. Swarm’s latencies met Yabby’s needs, and Swarm’s satellite pass checker tool allows Yabby to see exactly when one of Swarm’s 120 satellites will pass overhead.

“We’re focused on providing a complete, end-to-end monitoring solution for farmers… Swarm gives us the data volumes we need to be able to transmit all this information.”

Power supply was another consideration for Yabby. With sensors in some cases deployed across thousands of square miles, sending someone in person to change batteries in a connectivity modem isn’t feasible. “Swarm’s addition of a solar panel on their Eval Kit is key for us,” says Steve. “We can put our sensors out in the field and our customers don’t have to worry about how long they will last.”

Sensor suites and satellite gateways

This month, an initial batch of 40 Swarm Eval Kits will be deployed on a remote cattle farm in northern Australia that has no cell service. “This is a massive Outback farm,” explains Steve, “and ensuring that water is flowing from bores to tanks to troughs as expected is vital.” Yabby will use the Swarm units as gateways, with multiple Yabby sensors transmitting to a single unit directly or via long-range bluetooth. The gateway then sends that aggregated data back to the Yabby platform via the Swarm satellite constellation.

The ability to connect multiple types of sensors to a single Swarm unit allows Yabby to offer complete water-management solutions to farmers, rather than just solving one-off challenges. It also opens the door for Yabby to monitor things besides water, such as fuel levels in farming equipment or cattle tracking.

As Yabby continues to expand both their suite of IoT solutions and their customer base – in Australia and around the world – Swarm is excited to provide them with an affordable connectivity solution that will allow their devices to be deployed and transmit vital data anywhere in the world, at all times.