IoT blooms in Malaysian agro-sector

10 August 2018

MIMOS, Malaysia’s leading government technology provider, is developing a regional Internet of Things (IoT) hub for agriculture to deliver better yields and lower costs for a more sustainable approach.

While MIMOS, Malaysia’s national applied R&D Centre, is building and sustaining the country’s technology industry with the aim of becoming a key player in the emerging global Internet of Things (IoT) economy. “We are in effect a cost centre for Malaysia’s innovation economy,” says Thillai Raj T. Ramananthan, chief technology officer of MIMOS, who is “tasked with creating, developing and commercialising intellectual property.”

Currently, Raj and his 800 colleagues (including some 600 scientists, engineers, and other technical personnel) are focusing on an industry segment that is at a unique cross-section of Malaysia’s economic assets: deploying Internet of Things (IoT) sensors and Internet of Things (IoT)-enabled analytics to develop efficiency and productivity in the country’s agricultural economy.

MIMOS was established in 1985 and currently carries out its remit through two applied research laboratories, one focused on advanced electrical and electronics hardware development, the other on communication technologies. The latter concentrates on areas such as artificial intelligence, software engineering and data analytics. More than 500 intellectual property, which was developed by MIMOS has been commercialised by Malaysian technology companies.

MIMOS supports initiatives across an entire spectrum of technology areas from augmented reality to blockchain, and has had extensive consultations with industry leaders.

One of the national facilities housed within MIMOS is the Big Data Internet of Things (IoT) Technology Accelerator (BITX) Lab. The BITX Lab is an open innovation laboratory that provides end-to-end services and necessary technologies for the development of innovative Internet of Things (IoT) applications. The lab assists technopreneurs in accelerating market entry and maximising business performance through organised programmes in product upscaling, quality enhancement and branding. It offers an open but safe and controlled sandbox environment where innovation and experimentation on cutting-edge Big Data and Internet of Things (IoT)-related technologies can take place without the need for a big investment.

Internet of Things (IoT) is an area where Malaysia has “great ‘leapfrogging’ opportunities,” notes Raj, pointing to the national infrastructure and sectoral expertise that provides a platform for innovation. “We are building an entire ecosystem upon our platform,” he says, “promoting open source development framework, and working with the country’s regulator to allocate wireless spectrum.”

MIMOS is assisting the Malaysian government in implementing a National Internet of Things (IoT) Strategic Roadmap, which seeks to industrialise applications across several vertical industries including manufacturing and healthcare. Some initiatives are linked to sustainability: for example, an Internet of Things (IoT) sensor network developed in collaboration with the National University of Malaysia (Universiti Kebangsaan Malaysia) that monitors acidity levels in the waters in Tasik Chini, a UNESCO-designated biosphere site located in the state of Pahang, which is endangered by nearby mining activities. But it is in agriculture where Raj sees particularly fertile ground for growth.

The strategy for agribusiness-centric Internet of Things (IoT) has a number of drivers. Firstly, farming and aquaculture are well-developed sectors, with the palm oil industry being a particular asset. Malaysia produces more than a third of the world’s palm oil and MIMOS is working with the industry players to use the Internet of Things (IoT)-enabled analytics for sustainable planting. Secondly, there are strong export-oriented adjacent industries such as electronics, manufacturing and logistics that can also be leveraged in the agribusiness value chain. And last but not least are Malaysia’s efforts to maintain food security and boost rural economic activity, where Raj notes that MIMOS is helping small-scale farmers to keep production costs low while increasing yields.

MIMOS is supporting eight or nine Internet of Things (IoT) agribusiness trials around the country. These include Internet of Things (IoT) sensors to monitor temperature, humidity and other growing conditions for Shitake mushroom farmers, and an Internet of Things (IoT)-enabled aquaculture management system to optimise fish farming outputs. MIMOS is now expanding these trials into a more holistic digital e-commerce value chain: over 80,000 farmers in Malaysia and across Southeast Asia currently sell their produce through a MIMOS-supported online ‘Agro-Bazaar.’ Raj considers the regional reach to be a cornerstone of success: “we need an Internet of Things (IoT) industry with scale—an ASEAN-wide opportunity is critical for the next phase of Malaysia’s Internet of Things (IoT) industry aspirations.”

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