Read below how Soil Scout took the journey from science through R&D into a commercial solution!
The Science (2000-2007)
In the year 2000 an agrotechnology student and 19th generation farmer Johannes Tiusanen wrote an essay on future farming at the University of Helsinki: “In 2025 farmers will get online reports on underground soil conditions just like a local weather report”. After all, 2/3 of agronomic phenomena occur underground, mobile phones were becoming popular and continuous data aquisition electronics was becoming affordable.
However, his family had just spent a small fortune in removing obstacles like electric poles and bedrock stones from their fields, so introducing in-field sensor boxes was not an option: soil moisture sensors – which were badly needed to operate newly installed controlled subdrainage wells – would need to be fully buried.
But why do mobile phones lack coverage in the underground? Astonishingly, no-one knew. Of course soil attenuates radio signals, but why exactly and how much? The nearly graduated agronomist had found his topic for a PhD thesis. “The underground radio environment and hardware design of Soil Scout” was published in 2007 and received the appreciated Mikko Sillanpää outstanding thesis award shortly after.
Not only did combining theoretical analysis and extensive field work present the required methods to master the attenuating mechanisms, but also the emergent understanding enabled the design of an unprecedented underground antenna. The design allowed the antenna to interact with the surrounding soil in a way that gives it a radiating efficiency exceeding 95% when buried, just opposite to what happens when an “air-antenna” gets buried.
It was obvious, that something unique was at hand.
From Science to Real Life
What good is a buried soil sensor, if it needs frequent battery replacement or other maintenance? Engineer Jussi Sirkiä had lots of experience in power electronics and was eager to assist his good friend with an interesting problem: how to design a transmitter with enormous radio power while maintaining such a low power state the rest of the time. The ingenious control circuitry he came up with would allow an up to 20 year life time for the underground transmitter. The first prototype it is still buried and beeping 13 years later.
In 2009 a single complete measurement setup with a revised Scout and relevant receiver devices was sold for a research trial at Luke Natural Resources Institute, but still the data was logged on site. The successful deal was encouraging but did not quite meet up with the vision of an online view into the underground conditions.
Soil Scout is born (2013-2018)
A few years later IoT became a buzzword all over and suddenly it became a lot easier to explain the vision of plugging soil into the internet. Two experienced entrepreneurs, Kai Kronström and Ilari Koskelo learned about the Soil Scout solution and decided that the idea should be commercialized. Together with the two young inventors, Kai as an advisor and Ilari as an angel investor, the company Soil Scout was founded in 2013.
The investment was used primarily to develop the missing data upload gateway and relevant online server with a web interface, which completed the initial vision: finally the farmer was able to pick out his mobile phone and take a good look into the real-time underground conditions below his feet – just like a weather report.