Rural areas with limited Internet and Wi-Fi access could get a major upgrade in the future with the help of sheep and the Internet of Things (IoT).
Computer scientist and Lancaster University Professor Gordon Blair is hoping to bring the Wales countryside up to speed with urban areas, according The Daily Mail. With a £171,000 ($267,000) grant from the United Kingdom’s Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council, Blair plans to investigate how the IoT could work in Conwy, Wales with several innovations, including fitting sheep with digital collars.
The Internet of Things is the concept that everyday objects that can be connected to the Internet to allow “object-to-object communication” and real-time data monitoring, according to the Mail. It is expected to support automation in nearly all fields in the future.
By fitting sheep with digital collars, Blair hopes to track their movements and offer farmers a tool to monitor their livestock. Such collars could also provide an ingenious solution to the typically poor network coverage in rural areas of the U.K. by doubling as Wi-Fi hotspots.
In fact, similar technology has already been tested elsewhere in the U.K. EE, a U.K. mobile and Internet service provider, installed “Wi-Fi cows” at a festival in Glastonbury over the summer, The Telegraph reported. The cows were not real, just fiberglass figures, but they acted as 4G hotspots for festival goers to connect to the Internet.
During the Tour de France, Sony fitted a flock of sheep in Yorkshire with video cameras to record the race as part of a publicity stunt to promote ActionCam, its GoPro competitor, Business Insider reported.
Blair explained that the IoT can solve problems just as effectively in the country as in urban environments
“Cities have been the focus of much of the boom in this type of technology. It has been used to keep traffic flowing on our roads, monitor air pollution and even help us find a parking spot on a busy Saturday afternoon. But the countryside faces challenges of its own, from subtle environmental changes to catastrophic events such as flooding. The possibilities of bringing the Internet of Things to the countryside are limitless. The next step will be to identify exactly what will be of most use in the short term and how we will frame the project.”
Besides ovine Wi-Fi, Blair and Lancaster University have proposed using the IoT to fit sensors on riverbanks to act as a flood warning system. The sensors would monitor river levels and use an algorithm to predict flood risks and send alert notifications.
In the United States, a different solution is being studied for rural Wi-Fi. Gizmodo reported that a team at Rice University is experimenting with using the unused Ultra High Frequency TV spectrum to create a “wireless Internet pipeline” that rural users could take advantage of as long as they had a suitable antenna.
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