Japanese technology, with further development and analyses by Ohio State University agricultural engineering researchers, is making it possible for farmers, researchers, Extension specialists, environmentalists, greenhouse managers and the like to collect, analyze and disseminate real-time data through an Internet-based data collecting, networking and storage system.

Known as a Field Monitoring Server (FMS), it's the first technology of its kind to download real-time data directly to the Internet for a user's access.

"Collecting and storing data in-field is nothing new," says Reza Ehsani, an Ohio State precision agriculture state specialist. "But the ability to put real-time wireless data on the Internet at a low-cost – now that's a new thing."

Ehsani is a member of the evaluation team at Ohio State. He's taken on the task of further developing and finding new applications for the technology. Ohio State is among only a few universities globally working on the project. The system, developed by the National Agricultural Research Center (NARC) in Japan, is expected to be commercially available next year.

The system has a variety of components, including a field monitor that can be equipped with sensors to pick up environmental data, such as soil temperature, air temperature, relative humidity, wind speed and solar radiation, as well as a wireless LAN card for Internet access. The system also contains a base station, which includes a wireless access point and a router that collects the data from the FMS and places the information on the Internet. The information can then be accessed from anywhere in the world.

Ehsani said the uses for FMS are endless. "We plan to measure air quality in animal facilities, monitor the pollution in water, monitor plant health and growth rate in greenhouses, even access real-time field data from another country," he says.

The equipment also can monitor and control diseases, aid in water management, create virtual labs for educational purposes, and provide surveillance and traceability for safety and security purposes with a simple camera installation.

FMS comes with a variety of technological advantages. Commercially available sensors can be attached to the monitor to perform various functions, such as installing a radiometer to monitor plant health. The system also is compatible with computer technology already on the market so it can be updated as fast as the technology is updated.

One of its biggest advantages is cost. Each field monitor costs about $350, with an entire system running between $500 and $600. Once the system goes commercial, developers expect the price to drop.

Of course, with benefits also come disadvantages, Ehsani said. One drawback is the 350-meter range – two-tenths of a mile – between the monitor and the base station.

"But that range can easily be extended with the purchase of a wireless signal booster or by using a network of multiple field monitors," Ehsani says. The system also requires broadband access to the Internet if used for non-local purposes.

The system recently was demonstrated to participants at Ohio State's Farm Science Review at the Molly Caren Agricultural Center near London, Ohio.