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How the IoT is helping shrimp farmers get healthy bumper crops

Azlogica is one of Colombia's leading users of the IoT, for many different apps.

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Internet of Things technology is being used to make shrimp farming more efficient.

Image: Getty Images/iStockphoto

If you have a taste for shrimp, then Colombia could be the place for you: the county yields a large proportion of the world's supply.

But shrimp farming has its issues, the key ones being accurately monitoring yields and preventing theft. Bogota-based Azlogica is using the Internet of Things to help a host of Colombian companies work more efficiently and ZDNet talked to GM, Edgar Salas to find more.

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Salas: Azlogica is a mainly Latin American internet of things company, but while we are based in Latin America, that doesn't mean we can't work anywhere else. It is very easy to work widely overseas and we can manage the solutions in the cloud. So it's quite easy -- quite simple in fact -- on the core part of the architecture to run an IoT solution.

The rest is very simple. For example, it is easy to boot the devices, the gateways, the sensors in the field, and connect them to local or world networks, and to put them onto the software that the customer will finally use or view.

We integrate whatever is ready from the market to be integrated in terms of hardware, gateways, sensors, and so on. And we integrate parts of software APIs from other companies such as Tibco, Oracle, Analytic Systems etc. In our architecture, we reach for the best way to connect whatever the customer needs and show for them the data needed to make decisions.

What we are continuing to develop is the basement of a huge, holistic platform on which we can use whatever the customer needs. For example, two areas we are involved in -- GasNatural, which is well-known in Latin America, and Manuelita, which is an agricultural leader mainly focused on sugar cane and palm oil -- helped to fuel that growth.

This all means that we are growing quickly, and quickly means on average 55 percent every year. We are in almost every Latin American country and our customers are reporting, on average, 10 times return on investment and six months' payback.

edgar-salasazlogica.jpg

Edgar Salas, Azlogica.

Photo: Azlogica

What we aim to do is keep growing, and we believe that could be faster because we see the market is ready to get into the IoT. They see it as something new and topical but, more importantly, they see that many companies around the world are showing results from it.

For me, the results come from doing the hard work in the market to show what the results can be. And we can see that the return on investment is the main driver for using IoT.

In one of your presentations you use the example of how the IoT can be used to improve shrimp production. Can you outline that?

A customer of ours in the north of Colombia, on the Caribbean coast, has a shrimp farm with 180 pools of shrimp -- each pool is the size of a football field -- and they have three main problems.

One of the problems is theft. This is a very large farm and they have very limited surveillance systems for controlling who is coming in and who is going out of the farm.

At one point, thieves were entering the farm with a net and were taking shrimp from all of the pools, and all this at a time when the shrimp were about to be harvested. That was the first problem.

The second problem was the water quality, because they were not able to know if the shrimp were well-produced or not until the end of their production. They had no way of knowing when the water needed oxygen or if the temperature was raising or lowering which all had an impact on yield. To see how the shrimp were growing and whether they were growing properly was an issue.

The third problem was environmental. This was not as big a problem as the others, but they needed to be able to see the weather conditions and how they influenced the harvesting.

For these three problems, we set up a bundle of solutions. For the theft part, the solution was cameras fitted with solar panels connected to a gateway, and the gateway sending the alerts. We used electric geo-fences which gave more alerts and time-fences to cover blind spots.

This is all completely programmable and the customers can put it on what they believe are the best settings. The alerts go to the security guards and the sum of all the alerts goes into analytical reports. And, of course, it will identify any blind spots. So the customer could work out where the blind spots were and develop systems for reacting properly to alerts which we helped them with. That was the first part of the solutions.

The second part was a set of sensors which were put into the pools, and these sensors were connected to a gateway. There were also sensors connected to the gates and these could see when and where the fish were going out, and the sensors could also open and close the gates. And we also developed a sophisticated sensor for measuring which gates should be opened for the harvest.

The last part was the weather stations to measure the micro-climates. These are not very powerful but they can be used to analyse the prevailing conditions and to activate the devices to control the environment as much as possible.

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As a result of all this, the systems helped to raise the yields from the fish farms considerably. The information from the weather stations proved invaluable in identifying the best times to feed the fish. As they used the system, the farmers find all sorts of other uses for the networks.

Do you have similar applications based on the same software?

Yes. Our strategy has always been to build up a horizontal platform which could fit any sensor, any gateway and could be put into any cloud. Right now, our solution is available through AWS, and we have been working with AWS from the very beginning. And right now we have solutions with Oracle Cloud and solutions for connecting Oracle resources to our customers.

That's the flexibility of our business model. We can work wherever the customer need is. We work with most of the operators in the region and they can resell our solutions so that they want to put their solutions on their own cloud.

For end customers, they can connect our application to their own platforms and their own servers. In particular, we offer security and protection for their servers.

Do you have many users looking at the IoT?

We have over 100 companies using the IoT. For example, some of our customers have drones, helicopters, planes, trucks and light vehicles all connected with the IoT. Manuelita, which is one of the most important Latin American companies, has connected harvest machinery, motorcycles, airplanes, and so on and they need something different for each of them.

Manuelita is a good example because everything we build with them is a co-creation and those co-creations equal return on investment.

But there are other issues. Say we have a static asset like a weather station; mobility is not important so we don't need GPS and the application does not have maps for showing the movement of assets because they are static. The sensors just need to show where the assets are and that they are connected in and that's it.

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But sometimes there is variation in these static assets. Sometimes, and this happens in Latin America too much, the asset is stolen. Take public illumination, where sometimes the lights are being stolen -- almost 10 percent, 40,000 lamps each year in Bogota alone. The loss is not just the lamp itself, but the illumination and the safety around it. This is a static asset, but with a need for mobility because, when the lamp is stolen, we can track it.

The third application is for people -- teams like a salesforce or whatever else is in the field -- registering information so that we can connect them with smartphones, PDAs, or whatever else the customer needs. We give them all the information, spreadsheets or whatever else the customer needs filled out.

So you think co-operation is important?

Absolutely. We know all about IoT but we don't know the customers' business like the customer knows it. You go to a transport company, an agricultural company, and they have defined what is important to them.

So, we build the IoT platform in terms of what they have defined as important -- how it is connected, how they gather the information, how they transmit the information and how they want to see the information, and that is what we build.

The result of this is that the customer has built their own solution so they can get their hands on the solution in an easier and more reliable way. And of course, then they can measure the return on investment. They can see what results they have had and from where. Sometimes they share this with us and sometimes they don't. It's up to them.

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