Smart cities, smart farms: creating networks of everything

The launch of Innovation Central.High technology has been slow coming to agriculture, but a new centre being launched by industry and UNSW will aim to bring the power of networking, artificial intelligence – and even sensor-laden drones – to the farm gate.

Known as Innovation Central Sydney, it is a partnership between UNSW and networking company Cisco Systems, along with Data61, the National Farmers’ Federation, the NSW Farmers’ Association, the NSW Department of Primary Industries and ATP Innovations.

Innovation Central will focus on developing new uses for Internet-of-Things (IoT) technologies in agriculture as well as ‘smart cities’: from monitoring crop nutrition, soils, weeds and diseases using imaging sensors on drones, to bus shelters that stream data to smart phones and provide transport updates.

The centre will be based at Australian Technology Park, with an innovation hub based at UNSW, the latter focusing on cyber security – ensuring that autonomous IoT devices are not hacked.

Innovation Central is one of 10 such collaborative nodes around the world established by Cisco, an American multinational technology company whose hardware runs much of the Internet. Others are in Berlin, Barcelona, London, Montreal, Paris, Rio de Janeiro, Tokyo, Toronto, and Songdo in South Korea – as well as new centre opened in Perth last year, focusing on resource applications.

The potential applications of IoT are astounding

Professor Mark Hoffman, UNSW Dean of Engineering

The potential applications of IoT are astounding,” says Mark Hoffman, UNSW Dean of Engineering. “If you add computer chips, sensors and networking to anything – fridges, cars, bus stops, traffic lights, biomedical implants such as pacemakers and hearing aids – they can communicate with you via smartphones and computers. Your self-driving car can navigate around traffic jams, your fridge can order milk online or the hospital can give you a call for a checkup.”  

Cisco estimates the market for IoT technologies to be worth $19 trillion by 2020, and data traffic on mobile networks to grow eightfold by then – from 44.2 to 366.8 exabytes (an exabyte is one quintillion bytes, or 1 followed 19 zeroes).

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