Windmill Software Ltd
Data Acquisition Intelligence

February 2009

The Newsletter for PC-Based Data Acquisition and Control
Issue 127      February 2009
--------------------ISSN 1472-0221----------------------

Welcome to Monitor.  This month we are pleased to 
feature a guest article by Dr Bruce Grieve, Director of 
Syngenta Sensors University Innovation Centre.  Read how 
advances in sensors, telemetry systems and wireless 
communications could help agribusiness react to increased 
populations, water shortages and other challenges.

I hope you find the newsletter useful, but should you want 
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* Affordable Sensors: Changing the Rules of the Game for Future Farming
* Excel Corner:  8 Tips to Speed up Your Spreadsheet
* DAQ News Roundup

Affordable Sensors: Changing the Rules of the Game for Future Farming

Read the full article at

In recent years, worldwide natural and population events 
are dramatically increasing the pressures on arable 
farming.  First, and possibly foremost, is the projected 
growth in world population from 6.5 bn in 2006, to 8 bn 
by 2025 and 9.3 bn in 2050.  Such headline figures are 
exacerbated by population demographics in the increasingly 
prosperous developing nations, notably China and India. 
The wealth generation in the urban regions of these 
'economic tigers' is causing an economic migration away 
from near subsistence level farming and into the cities. 

Another effect of increasing disposable income, is the 
trend towards a high protein - ostensibly meat - diet.  
To rear poultry for protein, rather than derive it 
directly from crops, requires around four times the land 
area in order to deliver the feed volumes. The statistics 
are even worse for cattle which require approximately 
eight times as much land area for production of feed. 

In addition to the demands placed on agriculture in 
feeding a growing populace, the competition for fresh 
water is having a negative impact on conventional farming 
practices. Agriculture is the principal user of clean 
water with around 70% of all rainfall going into 
irrigation and other farm duties.

A third, and related factor, is climate change which is 
giving rise to more arid environments in some of the 
worlds most important farming areas. Even those countries 
which are not forecast to see a reduction in rainfall 
are not immune, as the unpredictable nature of the weather 
in intensively farmed areas means that harvesting cannot 
be routinely scheduled and may be cancelled altogether 
if saturated soils prevent farm machinery being deployed.

A further secondary effect of climate change is the 
variability in crop pathogen occurrence and disease spread. 
A recent example being the UK potato harvest of 2008 where 
the damp summer resulted in the highest occurrence of potato 
blight since the Irish Potato Famine of the 1840's.

On top of these global trends is an increasing awareness 
by politicians of the importance of securing their own 
country's domestic food and fuel supplies. In the next 
couple of decades numerous governments in the oil based 
economies intend to derive substantial volumes of their 
transport needs from second generation energy crops.  As 
a consequence, yields from existing arable land must 
increase by 50% if the current 400M hectares of Amazonian 
rain forest are to be protected. Historically Latin America 
has provided for the shortfall in food for Asia.  However, 
this is unlikely to be sustainable in the future. Given 
this context, the worldwide implications for farming dictate 
that radical changes have to occur to avoid devastation.

The Wireless Sensors Revolution

The ever increasing access to information on the move, 
from a combination of low-cost electronics, wireless 
telemetry and novel sensor science, has already changed 
the way we shop for goods, travel around, communicate with 
colleagues or spend our leisure time.  This revolution is 
set to continue apace as micro- and nano-engineering are 
merged with information science and inexpensive printable 
plastic semiconductors. These changes have been catalysed 
by a number of circumstances which are mostly unrelated to 
the agricultural sector. Examples include the US's 
'Enhanced-911' phone capability which embeds a new 
generation of low cost GPS receivers within mobile phone 
handset to pinpoint the location of a call made to the 
emergency services. Such systems are rapidly increasing 
the availability of cost effective wireless enabled 
positioning technology that may act as a platform for 
sensing systems. 

Again in the US, the supermarket chain Wall-Mart has 
dictated to its top 100 suppliers that they must provide 
Radio Frequency Identification (RFID) tags on all their 
inventory. Existing tags are too expensive to meet this 
need without increasing costs to supermarket consumers 
so the industry is moving towards printable polymer 
electronics in an attempt to hit the goal of a sub 1 cent 
tag. Such circuits techniques may then be used to form 
disposable sensor platforms for 'smart item' tagging and 
other duties. The growth in portable computing has also 
given rise to the ubiquitous availability in homes, 
businesses and cities of RF bandwidth with direct access 
to internet portals. In addition to the development of 
the new generations of electronic hardware there is a 
matching increase in device intelligence.

Closer to the agricultural sector dramatic reductions 
in gene mapping costs are allowing scientist to examine 
the methods by which parasites detect their hosts and 
to emulate these within sensor systems. From this 
background, agriculture is equally well placed to take 
advantage of the sensors, electronics and information 
revolution as other customer driven sectors. The lack 
of strategic take up of these agri-electronics 
technologies by any of the major agriscience businesses 
can be seen as an opportunity rather than a hindrance.

Charting the Landscape for Agri-Electronics in Farming

In order for a biotech business to take advantage of 
sensing and informatics it is necessary to set into 
context how such systems may offer benefits to the food 
and farming sector. Once the potential market drivers 
have been identified then the technology challenges can 
be road mapped to address these demands.

Route to developing Sensor Systems for Agriculture

At the one extreme the launching of an in-house agri-
electronics design team is a possibility but this 
approach has a number of limitations, notably the 
lead-time and costs of recruiting skilled personnel 
as well as maintaining a suitably sized group and 
associated infrastructure. 

At the other extreme is the intelligent purchaser model, 
whereby the necessary systems are acquired from 
third parties such that they meet an agreed specification. 
This has some superficial appeal for those applications 
where a clear market demand can be defined for existing 
electronic systems which are currently almost capable of 
doing the duty. These types of potential products are 
few and far between as such obvious exemplars will 
typically have been previously exploited. The intelligent 
purchaser approach is also deficient for introducing 
truly novel technologies as blindly following market-pull 
is unlikely to make the necessary linkages between the 
status-quo and the future possibilities. This may be 
summarised by the phrase; 'how can you buy a technology 
that does not exist to enable a market that is not 
currently possible'.

Syngenta have adopted the University Innovation Centre 
(UIC) model.  This addresses these issues by adapting an 
open innovation approach similar to that pioneered by 
Rolls-Royce, the aerospace company, and their University 
Technology Centres (UTCs). The Syngenta concept has 
parallels to the UTCs in having ring-fenced academics 
tasked with delivering the medium term proof-of-concept 
technologies, via direct business funding, and the related 
longer term underpinning sciences, via grant proposals in 
partnership with the Research Councils. Where the critical 
difference lies is in the scope of the technologies 
addressed. Unlike the UTCs, which are designed to replace 
and enhance previous in-house core capabilities, the 
Syngenta concept is to use the Centres to identify and 
deliver technologies which are currently not core to the 
business and may never be core. 

The model is that the UICs work alongside the company's 
business development teams to identify the markets that 
can be opened up by having access to hitherto unavailable 
enabling technologies. They then deliver the prototypes 
for verification in field trials and at that point handover 
the now proven technologies under a Syngenta / University 
license to third party device manufacturing companies.

About the Syngenta Sensors University Innovation Centre
The Syngenta Sensors UIC researches sensing systems and 
information communications technologies for agriculture 
and farming. The Centre is working in several areas, 
including: new sensing technologies; RFID; wireless 
sensor networks; energy harvesting; and information 
and knowledge management. 

Read the full article at

Excel Corner: 8 Tips to Speed up Your Spreadsheet

In Microsoft Excel, performance is affected by the way 
data and formulae are arranged on the worksheet. Here are 
some options to try to speed up your spreadsheet.

1. Organize your worksheets vertically. Use only one or 
   two screens of columns, but as many rows as possible. 
   (If you have imported readings collected by the Windmill 
   Logger program then your data will be arranged this way.)

2. According to Microsoft, when possible, a formula should 
   refer only to the cells above it. As a result, your 
   calculations should proceed strictly downward, from 
   raw data at the top to final calculations at the bottom. 

3. If your formulae require a large amount of raw data, 
   you might want to move the data to a separate worksheet 
   and link the data to the sheet containing the formulae. 

4. Formulae should be as simple as possible to prevent any 
   unnecessary calculations. If you use constants in a 
   formula, calculate the constants before entering them 
   into the formula, rather than having Excel calculate 
   them during each recalculation cycle. 

5. Reduce, or eliminate, the use of data tables in your 
   spreadsheet or set data table calculation to manual. 
   (A data table lets you see how different input values 
   affect the results of a formula. You create one with 
   the Data menu.)

6. Activate the Automatic Except Tables option. From the 
   Tools menu choose Options and then Calculation.

7. Do not use the Precision As Displayed option on the 
   Calculation tab, as this will slow recalculation. 
   (Precision As Displayed calculates numbers based on 
   their formatted values rather than on their actual 
   values.  It is typically used to prevent rounding 
   errors with currency, or when using lookup or 
   comparison functions.)

8. Array formulae and Lookup functions can significantly 
   slow down your spreadsheet. Could you use pivot tables 
   or database functions instead?

Related Topics:
Data Acquisition in Excel
Array Formulae
Pivot Tables
Optimizing Worksheets for Fastest Calculation (Microsoft)
Excel Best Practices (Ozgrid)

DAQ News Roundup

Welcome to our roundup of the data acquisition and 
control news.  If you would like to receive more 
timely DAQ news updates then grab our RSS newsfeed 
at  Read for notes
on how to display the news on your own web site, 
read it via e-mail, mobile phone or in your browser.

Self-Organising Sensor Network
   A University College London spinout has launched 
   a versatile wireless sensor network inspired by 
   the behaviour of creatures that act together, 
   such as flocks of birds. Senceive's Flatmesh 
   product allows hundreds of sensors to form a 
   robust, non-hierarchical radio network 'mesh', 
   where each unit communicates with its neighbours 
  rather than via central routers. 
   Source: The Engineer

Temperature Controller Market Growing Only in Asia-Pacific
   The worldwide market for temperature controllers 
   is in decline. Of the major geographic regions - 
   Americas, Asia-Pacific and EMEA (Europe, Middle East 
   and Africa) - VDC Research Group found that the 
   only temperature controller markets experiencing 
   growth are those in the Asia-Pacific region.  There 
   continues to be a trend in temperature control from 
   manual control, to temperature controllers and onto 
   PLCs, PCs, and DCSs.
   Source: VDC Research

Highest Capacity Flash Memory Yet
   SanDisk has announced a significant advance in 
   flash-memory technology that enables 64 gigabits 
   of data to be stored on a chip the size of a 
   fingernail. The new, more spacious flash chips 
   do this by holding four bits per memory cell, 
   as opposed to the standard one or two bits per cell. 
   Source: Technology Review

IEEE Approves 1902.1 Standard for Wireless Visibility Networks
   The IEEE has approved a new wireless standard which 
   improves upon the network protocol known as RuBee. 
   RuBee is a bidirectional, on-demand, peer-to-peer, 
   radiating, transceiver protocol operating at 
   wavelengths below 450 Khz. This protocol works in 
   harsh environments with networks of many thousands 
   of tags and has an area range of 3 to 15 m.
   Source: IEEE

Sensors Cut Food Waste
   Today many of the foodstuffs we eat in the UK are 
   grown in warmer climates of the world and can have 
   travelled thousands of miles before their journey ends 
   on a plate.  But exposure to extreme heat or humidity 
   during the journey can mean vast amounts of produce 
   are no longer fit to eat by the time they reach the UK. 
   Now scientists at Sygenta Sensors UIC are developing 
   low-cost radio frequency identification (RFID) sensors 
   that provide real-time information about the produce, 
   allowing problems to be detected before it's too late. 
   Source: The University of Manchester

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