Paul Challoner

Iowa State University will lead a 16-million dollar research project on the use of wireless technology to provide internet access in areas of Story, Boone and Marshall Counties.

Ericsson North America will provide network equipment and services. Paul Challoner, a vice president with the company, said agricultural uses will be one focus, “to be able to connect to agbots or IoT connected tractors, so it allows us to be able to automate farm management.”

Livestock tracking and weed identification will be tested.

“A drone has a camera,” Challoner said. “It identifies a weed in a field and can apply (herbicides), so I think that’s pretty interesting where AI technology is used for identification together with the cloud.”

It’s not just testing coverage to a farmhouse or building, but to the whole farm, he said.

“I’m really excited to look at the research output from this platform and discover more about the use cases and the radio technology that unpins it,” Challoner said. “This really will provide insights to create the digital village and digital farms of the future to sustain the rural landscape.”

It will test wireless internet connections to rural schools, hospitals and other sites in a 300-square mile area. ISU faculty and students will be involved in the research. Margaret Martonosi of the National Science Foundation said it’s the fourth project the foundation has launched in the U-S, in partnership with more than 30 wireless companies and associations.

“We need new solutions,” she said. “Affordable access to broadband is becoming an essential necessity similar to energy and water and its applications are so far reaching in our modern world that they directly and indirectly affect all aspects of our lives.”

She said that includes telemedicine, self-driving vehicles and other internet-based activities that are often out of reach in rural areas where connectivity is lacking. While the research team will be based at Iowa State University, it will partner with the Iowa DOT, the state-owned Iowa Communications Network as well regional utilities, and local school districts in the three counties. The Meskwaki tribal nation, Collins Aerospace and John Deere will also be involved.