The IoT changes how we think about our personal data and security. But what's the "internet of food" and how might the IoT affect how we handle what we eat?

The “Internet of Things” (IoT) is a fairly new buzzword being used to describe the interconnectivity of devices in our everyday lives. These devices communicate wirelessly, as well as collect and share data, via the Internet.

The IoT is revolutionizing many industries. Unsurprisingly, one of the biggest industries affected is that of agriculture and the food industry. Using the IoT, farmers and consumers can begin to make more informed choices using readily available data about the food they are producing and consuming.

 

Global Food Security and Precision Agriculture

With the global population expected to reach over 9 billion by 2020, optimizing the output of farms to sustain food sources is critical. It is estimated that, in order to support this expected population growth, the world’s output of food will need to increase by 70%.

With limited resources on the planet, simply expanding farms is not a sufficient solution to this impending problem. Instead, farms and food suppliers will have to become more efficient in their productive output.

Enter the IoT. With the use of automated sensors, monitors, wireless devices, cloud data collection, and even UAVs, smarter decisions can be made using information about weather, soil quality, humidity, and the ripeness of crops. It could also provide data on food nutrition, quality, origins, and conditions of growth.

 

This STS Developer kit, which contains a spectroscope and a Raspberry Pi, can be used to monitor crops from UAVs. Image courtesy of Ocean Optics.

 

This information, which could be processed using optimizing algorithms, could determine the best conditions crops are grown in to get the best yield and indicate when a crop is ready to be harvested. Markets can also be monitored to decide where to send product, and when to slow down production by providing real-time data on inventory. Such optimization could prevent the waste of crop products and resources such as water and fertilizer.

This concept is considered important to industry leaders. On November 7th and 9th of this year, the IC3-Foods conference (International Conference/ Consortium/ Center for Food Ontology, Operability, Data, and Semantics)—held at the University of California, Davis—brought together scientists, mathematicians, developers, and food suppliers to discuss these very issues. The goal of the conference is to facilitate the development of Internet of Food infrastructure for intelligent, environmentally friendly, and sustainable food growth and distribution. 

 

Supply Chain: From the Fields to Your Plate

So, what would a ubiquitous IoT—or should we say IoF?—system mean for the consumer? The ability to know where food came from, what conditions it was grown in, and a detailed nutrition profile would empower consumers to make more informed choices about what they purchase and eat. The hope is that some day the nutritional profile of food can be boiled down to the exact milligrams of minerals and vitamins contained within a piece of food.

Furthermore, knowing the origins and conditions that food was grown in can allow consumers to choose what they support or don’t support when it comes to agriculture—the use of pesticides or the distance it had to be shipped, for instance. For more ecologically aware individuals, such information could be highly valuable in helping them make choices important to them when it comes to food.

 

This crop monitoring app provide farmers with information and resources to monitor their crops. Image courtsey of Fera.

 

Currently, accessing such information is often very difficult to near impossible. With further development, detailed information on food in the marketplace or ingredients used in restaurants,\ can be easily accessible via smartphone apps or online.

 

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