The University of Manitoba will receive $500,000 from the newly merged telecom giant Bell MTS to fund a program aimed at developing an “Internet of things” in the agriculture and agri-food sector.
Bell Canada CEO George Cole made the announcement in Winnipeg last week, during a Chamber of Commerce luncheon, highlighting the company’s contribution to the university’s ongoing capital campaign.
While it’s still early in the development process, the university anticipates the Bell MTS Innovations in Agriculture Program will facilitate research that furthers precision agriculture, livestock and crop monitoring, as well as creating new mentorships and access to new co-operative education opportunities.
“Working on IoT (Internet of things) solutions within the agriculture, food and nutrition sectors not only offers our students a unique skills development opportunity that will support their future career opportunities, it is critical to the advancement of our agriculture and food economy,” said Karin Wittenberg, dean of the faculty of agricultural and food sciences. “It’s a perfect match.”
Bell’s chief technology officer said that the company appreciated the contributions that schools like the University of Manitoba make to technology design and development.
“We’re very pleased to work with the University of Manitoba to create this opportunity for students and faculty to develop new and better IoT (Internet of things) solutions for a sector that is a mainstay of Manitoba’s economy and important to all Canadians,” said Stephen Howe.
The company noted that there are links between its decision to fund connectivity in rural Manitoba and its planned $1-billion investment in expanded and improved networks in the province.
“While we haven’t announced all our plans for Manitoba, bringing state-of-the-art broadband technology to rural and remote parts of the province is certainly a big part of what we’ve already committed to, including continuous broadband wireless coverage along Highway 75 in southern Manitoba,” said a spokesperson for the company. “The $500,000 Bell MTS Innovations in Agriculture Program at the University of Manitoba is certainly linked to our $1-billion capital investment plan for Manitoba in that the expanded and improved broadband networks we’re bringing to Manitoba will provide the necessary backbone to truly leverage the kind of Internet of things applications students and researchers at the university will be developing.”
Jared Carlberg, associate dean of academics in the faculty of agricultural and food sciences, said that the reality is that students leave university and enter a wired world. Increased Internet and cellular services in rural areas, along with new applications and research, will all benefit agriculture, he added.
“Connectivity is a huge deal,” he said. “It’s one of those things where great strides have been made by Bell MTS and other providers in recent years. I don’t think that anybody would suggest the service is perfect, but I know everyone is dedicated to improving it… personally I am confident that Bell MTS and other providers will work very hard to make sure that happens.”
Students are also enthused about Internet of things and its applications in agriculture, Carlberg said.
“I am excited about the enthusiasm I see from the providers in improving this area of service for our agricultural producers, who are obviously the lifeblood of the province,” he said. “As someone who is very sympathetic to the farming industry and a former farm kid myself, I’m very sensitive to this need as well and I know many of our stockholders in the agriculture industry are as well.”