Private wireless network deployed in 3 days makes tractors autonomous

Intel, Federated Wireless and Blue White Robotics deployed a private wireless network at a California winery, claiming the technology will help farmers address labor shortages by making tractors autonomous. 

The network uses shared CBRS spectrum mediated by Federated Wireless’ Spectrum Access System. Federated Wireless said it took three days to deploy a network covering the 2.1-square mile property. The company did not respond to questions asking which CBRS radios were used.

The self-driving tractors can spray, disc and dust the crops with a single remote operator controlling an entire fleet. Data from the connected machines is processed using Intel’s Smart Edge software running on an edge server with a six-core Xeon D-1528 processor. These servers enable each tractor to  analyze and transmit detailed data about its operations and the vineyard’s conditions.

Intel’s Caroline Chan, VP in the network and edge group - new business incubator division, said in a press release she is “extremely optimistic for what 5G edge solutions can enable” for autonomous agriculture. “Each company brings unique offerings and expertise to create a private network solution that can not only transform agriculture but also scale to support other use cases in different sectors,” she said.

The winery’s network will be able to support more connected devices and use cases as the vineyard becomes increasingly autonomous, predicted Chris Swan, chief commercial officer at Federated Wireless. 

5G Open Innovation Lab

The hardware and software used to manage the tractors was provided by Blue White Robotics, an alumni of the 5G Open Innovation Lab startup accelerator program. The 5G Open Innovation Lab is a collaborative formed to develop software that can leverage 5G and facilitate digital transformation. Its advisory board includes Intel’s Chan, as well as T-Mobile’s John Saw, EVP for advanced and emerging technologies, and Microsoft VP 5G strategy Shawn Hakl.

Blue White Robotics wants to use automation to increase the global food supply by boosting agricultural efficiency and productivity. The company claims it can make any tractor autonomous, using AI, sensors and advanced navigation. But the platform requires connectivity, and many farms are not well served by public carrier networks.

“When you introduce all of these devices and robotics for autonomous farming, it’s a massive amount of data in an extremely rural environment, and traditional connectivity becomes a huge problem,” said Alon Ascher, chief business officer of Blue White Robotics, in a statement. “Managing a fleet of autonomous tractors and extracting data to different vendors in real time would not be possible without the private wireless network from Intel and Federated Wireless.”

“Blue White Robotics’ smart farming is one example of how broader adoption of automation and edge innovation depends on powerful, next-generation connectivity,” said Swan.

The 5G Open Innovation Lab selects 10-15 startups at a time for its 12-week mentoring program, which includes assistance with fundraising and go-to-market plans. According to Jim Brisimitzis, founder and CEO of the lab, he and his partners are focusing on healthcare, agriculture, transportation, manufacturing and logistics.

Companies that have been incubated at the lab include self-driving taxi startup Halo, open source CBRS network provider FreedomFi and spectral efficiency innovator GenXComm.