August Flatby

Honourable Mention: BioSpike

#IoT for Good, Interview

BioSpike was awarded an Honourable Mention in the 2015 Nordic IoT Challenge.  We had a chance to sit down with one of the founders, August Flatby, to discuss the company, its development, and its future.

Björn Svensson: So could you tell me a bit about Biogrid and the BioSpike?

August Flatby:  Actually, I just started Biogrid in March of this year.  So far, it’s just me and another guy.  We became really interested in technology for agriculture.  It’s sort of a leap from my previous experience but I think it’s just so interesting.

I came across all these articles last year about “AgTech” and about all the technologies that are coming in to the space.  It’s intriguing because it’s such an important problem.  It’s a global problem – with population explosion, the lack of arable soil, and mass urbanization.  All those parameters dictate a need for new technologies to be used in agriculture.  So we were thinking we should go with the software route because that’s what we were familiar with.  We wanted to bring our software thinking to agriculture.

BS:  Is that how you thought of the BioSpike?

AF:  This summer, when I heard about the Nordic IOT Challenge, the concept fit really well with the backend thinking we were having about building an intelligent cloud-based system.  But we thought there should be a novelty with the Spike.

For our entry into this competition we thought it would be interesting to build something – a device – which can be stuck in the soil, especially in poor areas of the world where there are underprivileged, unconnected, and even illiterate farmers.  The farmers might not even be able to read the instructions on fertilizer or maybe they don’t have access to fertilizer or they don’t know which fertilizers to use and all that.  So with the BioSpike, they could simply put in the soil and it would send off data, take soil samples, local climate samples, and send everything up to the cloud.  By doing that, all the data from all these farmers would be aggregated into the cloud.

BS:  Once it’s in the cloud, what happens with the data?

AF: The cloud operator can see everything at once.  That person – the operator – is not a farmer himself.  The operators of the cloud services are really specialists in agriculture and they can analyze the data in ways that normally the poor, illiterate farmer is not able to do.

BS:  That sounds amazing.

AF:  Well, we thought it was kind of clever because, since we equipped the BioSpikes with SIM cards, they could be put in areas that are normally off the [internet] grid where there might only be cellular connectivity.  So the farmer could just use SMS messaging to send off the sensor data.

BS:  That’s a really great workaround for connectivity issues in extremely rural areas.

AF:  It was quite interesting.  Also, as the final touch, given the fact that these farmers are mostly illiterate and they’re not able to use even smart phones, they can dial in to the [cloud] operator and have a normal conversation with that operator.  That operator can say, “Oh, I see your BioSpike is located in this region and I see your nitrogen levels are low.”  The operator can see the quality and the fertility of the soil.  And he or she can explain to the farmer,  “Oh, you should do this and this in order to improve the growing conditions.”  And the operator can go one step further to say, “You should be growing this crop and not that crop because if you want to have a cash crop that you can sell to the market, these are the products in demand right now – not the thing that you’re currently growing.”  Basically, the operator’s job will be to aggregate data about local demands and give suggestions.

BS:  Again, congratulations on being awarded an Honourable Mention in the Nordic Iot Challenge.  So what are the next steps for BioSpike?  Do you have the working Spikes themselves?

AF:  No we don’t.  If we became one of the finalists – or at least if we had won the competition – we would’ve started making them.  But the BioSpike wasn’t a real project originally – it was just kind of an idea that we thought would fit into our vision of making this cloud.

BS:  It’s such an ingenious idea though.  Could you possibly make a prototype?

AF:  Well, it’s a hardware manufacturing job.  So it would require more financing and more backing than we have at this point.  As we already have some other ideas that we are working on now, it’d be hard.

BS:  Can I ask what you’re focusing on at the moment then?

AF:  Sure, The company right now is mainly focused on building intelligent machine learning algorithms to understand data from sensors that are placed in indoor growing facilities.  It’s such a huge and varied business when we talk about [IoT and] agriculture; it encompasses so many things.  People can say this or that or, “Oh, maybe we can cooperate on making a robotic tractor or something!”  But for us, we have to keep focus.

So now, as Biogrid, we work primarily on our cloud system but we are developing sensors for use in aquaponic farms – with fish and plants on the top.  It’s a full [ecological] loop.   It needs to be really closely monitored with sensors.  We’re developing them and we’re developing a cloud backend and a mobile app for that.

BS: This all sounds amazing.  Thank you so much, it was great speaking with you.

AF: Thank you, Rick, it was great talking as well!