Species protection, traffic, automotive engineering, medicine – TELEMETRY is now used in many areas, with a broad range of economic and ecological benefits. This is also true for agriculture.
For “power napping”, elephant seals often dive to a depth of 300 metres, where they are safe from predators, lie on their backs and let themselves be carried by the waves: The research team of the National Institute of Polar Research in Tokyo found this out about the lifestyle habits of this seal species. This important information for the species protection programme was provided by telemetry, a technical process by which measurement data is transmitted to remote computers. In the study conducted by animal researchers, a sensor that is attached to the back of the sea mammals records certain data, such as the diving depth, which is then transmitted by an integrated transmitter to computers on land. In principle, the distance between the measuring object and evaluation unit is not important.
A telemetry application of this kind has become more of a marginal phenomenon. “Remote measurement” has long been a central component in a broad range of applications. The technology was developed in the 1920s for the transmission and analysis of data from weather balloons and then perfected in the course of rocket research in the 1940s and 1950s. Today, it is to be found in cars and provides information on petrol and oil levels while the vehicle is being driven. Weather services and navigation devices use telemetry to provide data on weather and road traffic conditions; freight forwarders use the technology to control their vehicle fleets and in cardiological medicine it is an indispensable diagnostic method for cardiac arrhythmias. The method is particularly efficient because the heart data collected is not written on paper or stored locally, as in the case of (long-term) ECG monitoring, but instead it is transferred immediately to a hospital computer via radio data transmission. This immediately triggers an alarm in case of life threatening conditions, thus allowing medical treatment to be administered.
Use in agriculture
Telemetry has also long become established in agriculture. “Telemetry is increasingly becoming a critical competitive factor for agricultural businesses”, says Prof. Dr. Heinz Bernhardt, Professor for Agricultural Systems Engineering at the TU Munich. Its uses range from locating the position of agricultural machinery, determining the fuel consumption of tractors or for failure prevention. Telemetry is also a central component of parallel driving systems which find the best lane to take across the field by GPS and thus avoid overlaps and missing areas. Telemetric systems also support optimised seed, pesticide and fertilizer application processes and optimum irrigation. While the tractor is moving, a fitted sensor measures the nutrient content of the plant so that the fertiliser can be dosed accordingly. The principle is similar during seed or pesticide distribution or irrigation. “This not only increases plant yield, but also helps to ensure economic use of production resources,” explains the scientist. At the end, the information gathered on seed, fertiliser and plant protection measures provides an extensive collection of data about a particular area of arable land that the farmer can also use for operational accounting or as proof of compliance with legal requirements. Telemetry is thus part of precision agriculture practices, often also called precision farming or smart farming. “Germany is one of the world’s leading countries in the technical implementation of such telemetrically controlled systems. For us, there are still challenges regarding autonomous tractors in legal terms”, says Professor Bernhardt with reference to Japan. The first autonomous tractors are already in use on the fields in the island nation. The possibilities opened by telemetrically controlled agricultural machinery are certainly huge. For example, only one driver is required to perform several work steps at the same time. While he is preparing the soil with his tractor, the following unmanned tractor sows the seed and a third tractor, which also communicates via a telemetric system, carries out irrigation.
A telemetry network
Research at the Department of Agricultural Systems Engineering is concentrated on finding intelligent land use and livestock farming solutions. In collaboration with the Weihenstephan-Triesdorf University of Applied Sciences and other partners, work is currently underway in the Barn 4.0 research project on the “autonomously controlled barn”, where everything is telemetrically networked: milking plant, barn cleaning, energy management. A sophisticated interplay of sensors, data transmission, measured value processing and intelligent control is essential in achieving this.
Metres below sea level – this is the depth at which elephant seals rest. This behaviour has been detected by sensors and transmitted via telemetry to the lab.
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