Microsoft CityNext “farming” data
By Jeff Friedman on March 15, 2016
Filed under Microsoft CityNext
As a Microsoft developer, Matthew Podwysocki is used to getting his hands dirty with software code; he also enjoys working in dirt of the organic kind, growing his own grapes, a variety of berries and pumpkins. With Microsoft CityNext supporting the innovative agriculture testbed in Montgomery County, Md., Matthew has the rare opportunity to meld his professional and personal passions.
Matthew and his colleague, David Makogon, both of the Developer Experience (DX) team, represented Microsoft at a recent workshop for the Internet of Things project aimed at helping Montgomery County farmers use data to become more productive and successful (see my Sept. 3 CityNext blog for more background). Built on our Microsoft Azure cloud platform, the testbed will rely on the expertise of our DX team to provide the high-level architecture and software to collect and analyze data from sensors that will be installed on the four Montgomery County farms participating in the project. The development team also includes:
- IoT Dev Labs and the University of Maryland Baltimore County: Creating the network infrastructure needed to run the testbed
- FiberTower and Link Labs: Providing hardware for wirelessly connecting sensors and other network components
- Patton Electronics Company, Eurotech and Earth Networks: Delivering sensor hardware.
Dan Hoffman, Montgomery County’s chief innovation officer and the driving force behind the agriculture testbed, credited both Microsoft team members for their contributions and expertise. “David and Matthew fit right in and we were able to hit the ground running,” he said. “They provided a very educational briefing to the other partners, they rolled up their sleeves, and helped get things working. That was awesome.”
Next up is for the Montgomery County Innovation Program, in cooperation with the County Office of Agriculture, to install sensors on the four farms involved in the project, including: a squash and pumpkin farm; a startup, specialty persimmon farm; Local Roots Farms; and Woodbourne Creamery at Rock Hill Orchard. “My hope is to have the first round of devices deployed on the persimmon and dairy farms in the next eight weeks or so,” Dan said, with the others to follow, depending on their schedules.
It is important work: in addition to supporting Montgomery County’s mission of exploring new ideas, processes, and technology for civic improvement, we believe this Internet of Things project could accelerate global innovation in agriculture. Dan explains, “the technology we’re deploying is really a service to the farmers we have in the county,” leading to the goal of eventually scaling the project by offering user-friendly kits that require no technical expertise. By supporting the agriculture testbed, we hope to scale throughout Montgomery County and beyond, offering a model that could help farmers around the world.
David, a DX architect, currently is focused on storing the data collected from the farms in Azure. “While we have all these devices that are capable of sending their information, reporting what their readings are—somewhere you need to store this information. I’m helping set up the data model and building interfaces to databases.” Another near-term challenge: “What can we do to eliminate the technical barriers” for farmers. Dan agreed: “We have to figure out what that interface looks like—what will the farmers see?”
To tackle that issue, the team will spend more time with the four farmers to show the data that’s coming off the farm-based sensors and ask for feedback on how it should look and be delivered. Matthew and David envision Microsoft Power BI playing a key role since it enables data to be visualized in various formats and accessed from anywhere, anytime and on any mobile device. “Once all the data is collected, the Power BI tool turns that data into useful insight by making it visual and interactive,” David said.
While much work remains on the agriculture testbed, Matthew believes it offers significant potential to answer important questions, such as “how much water is in the soil, how much rain is in the forecast, how to turn data into something actionable by the farmers—all of these sorts of things are very, very interesting.” That’s especially true for farmers in Montgomery County and around the world!
Jeff Friedman is Microsoft’s eGovernment Director in the State and Local Government Solutions Group. He was most recently the Co-Director and Co-Founder of the Mayor’s Office of New Urban Mechanics for Philadelphia Mayor Michael Nutter. Previously, Friedman was the Manager of Civic Innovation & Participation in the Mayor’s Office. He led various initiatives to make city government (and urban governance generally) more open, participatory, transparent, entrepreneurial, and innovative. Previously, Friedman was Chief of Staff to the Chief Technology Officer in the Division of Technology, and before that he was Deputy Director of Performance Management/Implementation Manager for Philly311 in the Managing Director’s Office. Prior to joining city government, Friedman consulted to state, local, and county governments across the nation at Public Financial Management, a national consultancy. He earned his undergraduate and law degrees from Temple University.