Researchers across the world are developing a new system to bring WiFi to people who live in rural areas. In addition to providing internet and e-mail access, the new system aims to help rural farmers monitor crops, environmental changes, and livestock.
The idea is to use sheep and other livestock to create a sensor network. By placing a sensor in ear tags or collars, the farmer can create a network that grows stronger with the inclusion of additional sensors. The more sheep that are connected to the sensors, the stronger the network. If one sheep wanders away, it will not have a significant effect on the network’s strength.
In Northern Finland, Sweden, and Norway, researchers are using sensor network technology to provide internet to the indigenous Sámi people. The Sámi’s main source of income is earned by herding reindeer. Because of the reindeer’s dietary needs, the Sámi have a nomadic lifestyle, making it impossible for them to have traditional wired internet access. By using the reindeer to create a sensor network, researchers hope to help the Sámi access the internet and increase their business.
Sensor networks can also be used to monitor water levels and warn of flooding, check pollution levels, and apply pesticides more precisely. Professor of animal welfare Greg Cronin wants to use the sensor network technology to monitor the behavior of sheep, so that their farmers can be notified of any stressors, such as attacking dogs, and prevent damage and loss of life that may befall the sheep.
“If you could pick the right sensor that identified behaviors that changed when sheep were under attack, it could trigger an alarm for the farmer,” Cronin told the Atlantic.
So far, WiFi-enabling sheep and reindeer is a few years away, but researchers believe that, with consistent research, the technology may be available sooner.