Here at Metova, we strive to be on the cutting edge of technology. This means changing our proficiencies as new technology and tools come out. Most recently we have been concentrating on the Internet of Things (IoT), particularly embedded development and LoRa. We see IoT as an enormous opportunity in multiple industries, ranging from utilities to agriculture to transportation. In July, Metova joined the LoRa Alliance to promote the use of LoRaWANTM (Low Power Wide Area Network) protocol as the leading open global standard for secure, carrier-grade IoT LPWA connectivity. That’s awesome, but what on earth does it all mean?
Learning enough to write about LoRa and understand it had me going down a rabbit hole chasing information and definitions for the information and definitions I was learning about. So, in an effort to ease you into LoRa and make understanding what it is and why it is so awesome, I am laying it all out, ELI5 style.
What is the Internet of Things?
Imagine if your smart fridge sent out a signal when you are low on milk. Your phone could pick that up and notify you or add it to your shopping list. Pretty cool, right? Think bigger. Expand that functionality out to every item you own. Now imagine it throughout a community: water and gas utility meters, parking sensors, equipment monitoring, et cetera, et cetera, et cetera. This interaction and communication is the basis for the Internet of Things.
LoRa signal can travel multiple miles. The devices are inexpensive and can run for years without needing a battery change. This creates the ability to monitor devices that are difficult to access or out of range for wifi or cell service.
The caveat to this wonderful technology is the limited amount of bandwidth it offers. In order to have such a long range and extended battery life, the frequency of a LoRa transmission must be very low. The more data you want to transfer at a time, the less distance and more battery you use. While it may seem pointless if you can’t use it to stream Netflix, there are plenty of cases where range and reliability trump bandwidth.
How Does LoRa Work?
It is easiest to compare LoRa to a cellular network. LoRa devices have a module that communicates to a locally central location called a gateway. Think of how your phone uses a cell tower to send and receive information. The gateway is a go-between from the sensor to the server. The network server communicates with the gateway via the internet and tells it how to interact with the sensor.
LoRa Communication Example
It might work something like this. A farmer has a herd of cattle, each has a collar that monitors when she was last milked. Bessie’s collar reads that she was milked at 4:00am. This information is sent, via LoRa, to the gateway. The gateway uses the internet to notify the network server that Bessie was milked at 4:00 am. The network server then tells the gateway to send back a message-received type response. Next, the data is evaluated and sent to the dairy’s application server where the farmer can manipulate the data, create reports, and more.
Resource management and knowing your fields and animals inside and out can make or break a farm. LoRa sensors can be used to monitor the status of an area in real time which allows farmers to make decisions using the most accurate information. By measuring the moisture and minerals in the soil, water and fertilizer usage can be targeted. It reduces waste and puts the resources where they are needed most.
Pests are a huge challenge in growing crops. If a sensor can detect an otherwise indistinguishable increase in bug pheromones, farmers can create a plan to manage the pests sooner, saving more of their crops.
Water, gas, electricity, we all have utilities in our home or business whose use must be measured and billed. Currently, this role is filled by an individual who must go to every house and manually record the meter readings. If a LoRa module is added to each meter, this information can be retrieved quickly, accurately, and on schedule. Tying the data into a database and billing system would aid in a faster and more accurate billing system.
Knowing I will have trouble finding a parking spot on a busy night in the city or at an event is almost enough to keep me home. What if each parking area or space had a LoRa device that could monitor whether the space was taken or not. That information could be displayed in a mobile app, making it easier to navigate tough traffic situations.
There are many, many more uses for LoRa technology. If you need to monitor some basic information about a group of widely spaced items cheaply and reliably, LoRa is the answer.