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Increased use of sensors requires better management

Connected Green: Sensor Management is a Specialty

The use of sensors for measuring soil moisture has proven to be a great success. Now the focus is on better interpreting the data to achieve even greater “gains.” Connected Green has fully equipped its platform with state-of-the-art technology and is currently training special sensor managers who make tree care more efficient. Several green space providers are already working with a sensor manager. René Voogt (Connected Green), Jan Willem de Groot (Pius Floris Tree Care), and Elsemiek van de Kamp (Ter Riele) delve into the tips and tricks of sensor management.

Author: Emiel te Walvaart

Connected Green is a platform for monitoring green spaces, utilizing sensors connected to the Internet of Things. The effectiveness of the sensors is beyond question. However, by better assessing the value of the data from these sensors, even more can be achieved from the system. René Voogt (Connected Green) explains, “We configure the sensors in human language and provide an easily understandable representation of their status. In other words, we add domain knowledge to the sensors. That’s the added value. We ensure that the right information reaches the right person at the right time. We do this for many green space providers and municipalities. Currently, we have over 2,000 sensors in use in the Benelux region, serving 120 organizations that use our platform.”

A Separate Field of Expertise

Currently, there are organizations and municipalities that use tens to hundreds of sensors. The Connected Green system is designed to be flexible, allowing sensors to be moved between different projects. In such cases, effective sensor management becomes increasingly important. “Which sensors do we have? Where are they located exactly? Managing these sensors has essentially become a separate field of expertise. In the first few years, our focus was primarily on convincing people how the system works and its benefits. But now, we need to inform users about the possibilities of moving sensors from one project to another. To facilitate this effectively, you need to engage in sensor management. It’s actually a specialized field, and we’re assisting more and more customers in this regard. That’s why we developed the sensor management training, which we first provided at Pius Floris, as they have around two hundred Connected Green sensors in total.”

Depending on the agreed-upon post-care period for projects, users can relocate sensors to different locations after a certain period. The entire system is designed to support this. “At the beginning of 2020, we announced new steps for our system, such as integration, management, and calibration. These developments have now been fully integrated into our package, including a coupling and user management module. We can see that customers are now ready to delve into sensor and user management. As the number of sensors and stakeholders increases, users want to share information and know where each sensor is located.”

This is Only the Beginning

According to Voogt, we are just at the beginning. “Connected Green is growing rapidly. Most companies start with a limited number of sensors to test the concept. This year, larger clients will begin deploying sensors on a large scale. The demand for green spaces in public areas is increasing. There is a need for local recreation due to lockdowns. People also want their children to grow up in cleaner air, and there is a rising trend of nature-inclusive construction and urban farming. This means that greenery is being incorporated around buildings, but it’s not as natural as in a forest. Trees on rooftops or balconies, or green walls, need proper monitoring. If you neglect that, the tree will suffer.”

Voogt also wants to contribute to knowledge sharing for the green sector with Connected Green. The company is a member of NL Greenlabel and is actively seeking other partners. ‘Our platform is sensor-independent, so we can connect any sensor. The more sensor data, the better. Sensor suppliers need to be platform-independent, and platform suppliers need to be sensor-independent.’

Voogt is not sitting idle and is looking towards the future. ‘I expect that every company in our sector will be working with a sensor or data manager. I also think that forecasts will become more important in the future. When you can align actions with what the sensors report, the predictive capability becomes greater. For example, we have a reporting module as well as an analysis and prediction module in the pipeline. It will soon become indispensable and very interesting because it will indicate how much water you should give a tree. This will be based on past data combined with expectations.’

Better coordination

One of the companies using the Connected Green platform is Pius Floris Boomverzorging from Veenendaal, for over three years now. They currently have around two hundred soil moisture sensors placed in various locations in the Netherlands and Belgium. The tree care company aims to make the most out of the platform to better serve their customers. As a result, four employees were recently trained as sensor managers. René Voogt from Connected Green provided the participants with the necessary knowledge and skills to work with soil moisture sensors, enabling them to better manage projects and analyze sensor data.

‘Tree planting is crucial for us,’ says Jan Willem de Groot, franchise manager at Pius Floris. ‘If you don’t provide proper aftercare, your entire investment is essentially wasted. Watering often goes wrong, either too much or too little. With the help of the Connected Green platform, we can better control this process. Before we started using it, there was only one option to monitor a tree: making a physical visit. For example, we had a schedule where we watered once a week. With the sensors, we can now adjust the watering based on the actual situation and needs,’ De Groot states.

He emphasizes the importance of interpreting sensor data. ‘Naturally, we all want a device that tells us exactly what to do. However, you still need to use your common sense, even when using sensors. You can place a sensor in the ground, but you still need to understand how soil moisture management works. This can be a pitfall for some people.’

Close coordination

Currently, Pius Floris has sensors placed in around 45 projects, with an average of three sensors per project in the Netherlands and Belgium. The sensors are regularly moved to different projects, and the sensor managers oversee this process. They manage the system on the backend, ensuring the correct settings and parameters. This increases usability within a large organization, according to De Groot. ‘You can’t expect every employee to immediately know how to work with the sensors. That’s why we have trained these specialists.’

Initially, De Groot himself was responsible for sensor management. However, due to the large number of sensors in use, Pius Floris decided to assign several employees to handle this task. This way, communication lines remain short within the various companies under Pius Floris. The sensor managers can handle most matters, only seeking assistance from De Groot or Voogt from Connected Green for complex issues. This way, knowledge is distributed more effectively to local projects.

De Groot also sees various advantages of Connected Green. ‘This way, you can demonstrate to the client with measurement values that you have provided water. Moreover, you prevent giving water too early or too late and can plan the watering much better. Additionally, you can monitor the soil moisture trend more easily, which allows you to save water. If you don’t have to water once during the season, it saves a lot. You can also give water to the tree at an important moment, so that it takes root. However, in my experience, you should not rely blindly on the sensors because the quality of the tree is essential. You also need to physically assess the tree. All in all, Connected Green is a very effective addition to tree aftercare.’

An important focal point is the knowledge of soil moisture management. De Groot says, ‘Invest in it to understand what you can do with the sensor data. If you don’t, you’ll go astray. It’s truly a knowledge tool. So far, we have learned a lot from the process. Anyone considering using Connected Green should take note of that. You want to avoid someone claiming that the sensor doesn’t work. That’s not fair. If you start using the product without substantive knowledge, it can lead to frustrations and misunderstandings. That’s the pitfall.’

Remote monitoring

Another partner of Connected Green is the landscaping and green maintenance company Ter Riele B.V. The first sensors were installed in April last year. ‘One of the reasons was that 2018 and 2019 were very dry years, and we wanted to better manage the watering. It’s quite a distance if you have to drive from Klarenbeek to Winterswijk with a tractor. During those dry periods, you were giving a lot of water, but you could never really verify if it was the right amount at the right time. It also plays a role that we work on various types of soil, such as dry sandy soil or wet clay. By monitoring remotely, you can work more accurately and be more efficient with water,’ explains Elsemiek van de Kamp, calculator/work preparer at Ter Riele.

Around fifty sensors were installed by Ter Riele to streamline the watering on a green project along the A1, from Deventer to Azelo. The Connected Green platform was also used in a construction project in Amersfoort. For example, a sensor was placed near a newly planted large beech tree measuring 40/45 cm. ‘In recent years, it has been observed that the beech tree dries out quickly, and it is located on dry sandy soil. We also incorporated Lumido into the soil during planting to retain moisture properly and reduce the risk of loss. By providing timely watering and proper planting, we ensure that this beech tree takes root. We can now monitor the watering well with the sensor.’

Van de Kamp learned a lot about the ins and outs of Connected Green when René Voogt assisted in setting up fifty sensors for the A1 project at Ter Riele. ‘Various questions arose. What is the right location for the sensor? Which types of trees can you use it for? How many sensors do you place for different numbers of trees? Are there different soil conditions? What soil improvements have been made? And so you have to choose the least or most ideal situation, depending on your requirements. You also need to provide the GPS coordinates accurately when placing a sensor so that you can find it again. You should not forget that when you move the sensor to another project.’

Furthermore, Connected Green is useful for providing the client with insight into a project. “For example, you have to deal with the specification requirement for tree replacement. If a tree doesn’t take root, you can always use the sensor to demonstrate that you provided it with sufficient water. If it has rained, for instance, you can postpone the watering. This way, you can be accountable to the client.”

Knowledge of moisture management

Van de Kamp is happy to list some advantages of Connected Green. “Because you have a better understanding of the soil condition, you can now water much more efficiently. You can also share the measurement data with the client.” However, the system doesn’t function optimally without good management. “The preparation of a project with sensors is crucial. You need to know where to place a sensor. You also need to be aware of the species included in a planting plan and their water requirements. You need broad knowledge of trees and their moisture management.”

Van de Kamp advises new users to take the time to calibrate Connected Green and the sensors because the system is highly cost-effective. “If instead of watering ten times a year, you only need to water seven times, then you’ve already recouped the cost of the sensor.” Van de Kamp collaborates with project implementers to maximize the effectiveness of Connected Green. She also uses the Jewel route app in combination with the sensors to drive as efficiently as possible for watering.

Ter Riele will increasingly rely on Connected Green in the future. “That doesn’t mean we’ll use it for a project involving five plants. We will use it, however, when we’re managing a project with seventy trees in the near future. Then we’ll install four or five sensors. Whether or not we use it depends on the specific project.”

All in all, Connected Green is an excellent system, but according to Van de Kamp, it’s crucial to have good sensor management in place. “Because if you work with incomplete data, it’s better not to use the program.”

Why is sensor management important?

When it comes to measuring soil moisture, there are many different parameters to consider. It starts with placing the sensors in the right location, depth, and soil type. It’s also necessary to consider the connection with KPN’s LoRa network, proper app settings, sensor configuration in projects, and location on the map. Additionally, you need to connect the appropriate users to receive information and assign the correct permissions. And don’t forget that you have to integrate the app to use the data in other systems. All of these aspects together constitute sensor management. “The user should be able to manage Connected Green themselves and rely on us as little as possible,” says Voogt. “Companies are collecting more and more data and need to process and make it available. That’s why there’s an increasing number of data managers in our industry. For that reason, we have launched the sensor management training. You can complete it in half a day.”

Source: Stad+Groen

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