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Inria deploys a wireless sensor network in Argentina to save peaches


In April 2016, the Inria-Paris EVA team has started an experiment in the Mendoza region in Argentina. The goal is to predict frost events to save the harvest of peaches.

In November 2013, peach farmers in Mendoza, in North-West Argentina, announce a disaster: they just lost 85% of their harvest. The reason? A series of intense frost events during the month of September, when the flower buds are the most fragile. The economic impact is enormous: 100 million US dollars of lost revenue and over 10,000 seasonal workers laid off in that region alone. 

The Mendoza region is probably most famous for its wine, but it also produces lots of other fruits. Prune, cherry and peach orchards are lined up as far as the eye can see, covering over 200 square miles. Usually good business, fruit production is unfortunately very dependent on the weather. The land the trees grow on is semi-arid, and undergoes large temperature swings, including sudden frost events. Trees only have to be exposed to freezing temperatures for a couple of hours in August and September for the flower buds to fall, preventing fruit growth.

Wireless in the fields


Thomas Watteyne, a research scientist in the EVA team at Inria-Paris, explains: “The economic impact of frost is so large that orchards are equipped with tools to fight it: heating devices can be placed across the orchards, and helicopters called in to move the hot air around. Yet, what is hard is not to fight the frost, it’s to predict when it is going to happen”. Most orchards are equipped with an advanced meteorological station, and micro-climatic models combine the measurements from that station with weather reports to predict frost events. The problem is that a weather station is just one point of measurement, and orchards are not equipped with a network of sensors dense enough to provide the data granularity needed make better predictions. The goal of the “save the peaches” project is to deploy a network of wireless sensors across an orchard to collect large amounts of sensor measurements and predict frost events better.

For this project, Inria partners with researchers from Universidad Tecnológica Nacional (UTN) in Mendoza and from Universidad Diego Portales (UDP) in Santiago, Chile. The Inria EVA team develops multi-hop sensor network technology. “Through this project, we want to gather network statistics. This deployment will help us verify the behavior of our systems in a real environment” says Thomas Watteyne. The EVA team works with SmartMesh IP sensor networks manufactured by Linear Technology/Dust Networks, in partnership with Metronome Systems. These network are multi-hop, offer end-to-end reliability of over 99.999%, and consume so little that a device can operate for over a decade on a pair of AA batteries.

The teams have installed a network of 23 sensors in an orchard used for research. Wireless modules are mounted on posts planted between trees. These modules will measure air temperature and relative humidity, as well as soil temperature and soil moisture. The data collected is sent to a gateway, which relays it instantaneously to a webpage. The team plans on deploying additional sensors between now and July.

PEACH is a STIC-AmSud project which support from Inria's European and International Partnerships Department.

Keywords: Peaches Inria de Paris EVA Argentin Pêches Réseaux Capteurs