In 2000, agrotechnology student and 19th generation farmer Johannes Tiusanen wrote an essay on the future of farming at the University of Helsinki. The thesis — in 2025, farmers will get online reports on underground soil conditions just like a local weather report — was bold but logical. After all two-thirds of agronomic phenomena happen below the ground.
The family operated 17 drainage control wells across the farm, but it was hard to determine whether individual tile branches required drainage or not. Experimenting with gypsum blocks, Johannes immediately ran into the most significant disadvantage of the current products — obtrusive, above-the-ground components that disturbed fieldwork.
His family had just spent a small fortune on clearing their fields of obstacles such as electricity poles and rocks. No surprise, bulky above-ground equipment with cables and loggers would not enter their fields.
Having ruled out wired measurement stations, Johannes figured he would need wireless soil moisture sensors that would work even when fully submerged into the ground. Easier said than done!
All wireless devices he tested refused to transmit data after he buried them into the ground. Why? Surprisingly, no one could answer. Of course, soil weakens radio signals, but why, and how much?
Johannes — an innovator at heart, nearly graduated agronomist — had just found a topic for his Ph.D. thesis.
In 2008 Johannes successfully defended his doctoral thesis. On the photo professor Jukka Ahokas, opponent Ph.D. Erkki Aura, Johannes, and opponent Ph.D. Markku Sipilä.
His thesis, ‘The Underground Radio Environment and the Hardware Design of Soil Scout,’ was published in 2008. It combined theoretical analysis and extensive fieldwork to present the methods of managing the underground attenuation mechanisms.
His trailblazing research enabled an unprecedented underground antenna design, which reached a radiating efficiency of over 95% when submerged, just the opposite of a standard (air) antenna.
Johannes’ thesis was approved in 2008, and it received the coveted Mikko Sillanpää outstanding thesis award.
Clearly, something unique was at hand!
How useful is an underground soil sensor if it requires frequent battery replacements and maintenance?
Not so useful, thought Jussi Sirkiä, an engineer with substantial experience in power electronics. In 2008, he was eager to help his good friend who had an exciting challenge – designing a radio transmitter with enormous radio power and an extremely low power state for the rest of the time.
Jussi's ingenious control circuitry enabled up to 20 years of battery life for the underground transmitter. His first prototype is still buried and properly transmitting data 13 years later. Jussi joins Soil Scout as a co-founder and CTO.
In 2009, the first Soil Scout measurement kit with a sensor and receiver device was sold to the research project of Luke, the Finnish Natural Resources Institute. The first successful deal encouraged the team. It was already 2012 but data had to be logged on site – not quite like the original vision of the online underground weather report!
A few years later, IoT became a buzzword. And all of a sudden, there was an easy language to explain the idea of plugging soil into the internet.
Experienced entrepreneurs Kai Kronström and Ilari Koskelo learned about the solution and saw its enormous commercial potential. Together with the two young inventors onboard, Kai as an advisor and Ilari as an angel investor, Soil Scout was founded in 2013.
The investment enabled them to develop the missing data upload gateway and an online server with a web interface to complete the original vision. And finally, in 2017, farmers could use Soil Scout to check current underground soil conditions using their mobile phone – just like a weather report!
In 2018, the team was convinced that their wireless soil sensor and monitoring solution was ready for the global markets. With a clear vision to help farmers and golf and sports turf professionals manage soil more efficiently, the team created a plan for scaling production and sales worldwide.
In October 2019, Soil Scout closed significant late-seed funding led by Husqvarna Group, and including private investment.
Soil Scout was ready for take-off!