How Big Data And Tech Will Improve Agriculture, From Farm To Table

By Tim Sparapani



There’s nothing more important than our food supply. America is a country synonymous with wheat farms and orange trees. But according to McKinsey & Company, about a third of food produced is lost or wasted every year. Globally, that’s a $940 billion economic hit. Inefficiencies in planting, harvesting, water use and trucking, as well as uncertainty about weather, pests, consumer demand and other intangibles contribute to the loss. On the consumer end, inadequate packaging and labeling can lead to waste and potentially life-threatening illness due to food-borne pathogens.

These are problems desperately in need of solutions and many of those solutions can be found in emerging technologies.

Big data is moving into agriculture in a big way. Need proof? Several well-known investors recently dropped a combined $40 million into Farmers Business Network, a data analytics startup. Venture capital has flooded the ag tech space, with investment increasing 80% annually since 2012, as investors realize big data can revolutionize the food chain from farm to table.

Sensors on fields and crops are starting to provide literally granular data points on soil conditions, as well as detailed info on wind, fertilizer requirements, water availability and pest infestations. GPS units on tractors, combines and trucks can help determine optimal usage of heavy equipment. Data analytics can help prevent spoilage by moving products faster and more efficiently. Unmanned aerial vehicles, or drones, can patrol fields and alert farmers to crop ripeness or potential problems. RFID-based traceability systems can provide a constant data stream on farm products as they move through the supply chain, from the farm to the compost or recycle bin. Individual plants can be monitored for nutrients and growth rates. Analytics looking forward and back assist in determining the best crops to plant, considering both sustainability and profitability. Agricultural technology can also help farmers hedge against losses and even out cash flow.

The software market for these sorts of precision farming tools (such as yield monitoring, field mapping, crop scouting and weather forecasting) is expected to grow 14% by 2022 in the United States alone. Researchers suggest the full-scale adoption of these technologies could mean an increase in farm productivity unseen since mechanization.

For consumers, packaging sensors detect gases emitted as food starts to spoil and verify packaging integrity and freshness. Algorithms can even help create a recipe out of whatever you have in the pantry. Several startups are building finger-sized scanners that tell the composition of food on your plate, from ingredients to nutrient content, by sending data to an app on your smartphone. These applications help not only health-conscience consumers but also those with chemical sensitivities or food allergies. Some projections say it could help reduce overall health care costs, too, as consumers are increasingly empowered to customize their nutrition and avoid potentially spoiled or contaminated foods.

All these data points provide an unprecedented amount of information about the food we grow, process, eat and discard. They even enable farmers to customize individual fields to meet the demands of a specific region or consumer group. Buyers might be able to track their future loaf of bread from seed to flour.

Big data also holds enormous promise for urban farmers — people who are turning rooftops and abandoned lots into small farms. Lloyd Marino of Avetta Inc., a big-data expert who has written about seed preservation, points out that, “Big data in conjunction with the Internet of Things can revolutionize farming, reduce scarcity and increase our nation’s food supply in a dramatic fashion; we just have to institute policies that support farming modernization.”

What’s important now is to ensure that both the technology and data it generates are available to everyone. The U.S. Department of Agriculture should step up its support for the use of drones and other data systems for precision farming. Congress should get into the act and add a title to the Farm Bill that is due for reauthorization in 2018 that explicitly supports the widespread implementation of data and emerging tech to maximize efficient farming, save precious water, reduce unnecessary chemicals and decrease food waste and contamination.

Access to data for farmers, food handlers, grocers and the public shouldn’t be cost prohibitive. Consumers and farmers both must trust the data, so how and why it’s being collected should be transparent (and of course protected). We need smart industry standards and best practices for ag tech, new infrastructure such as smart roads to ensure we get the most from the technology, as well as an overhaul of communications infrastructure that wasn’t designed for near-constant wireless input. Finally, research into farming robotics should be beefed up to develop robots that could respond to data for better, faster and more efficient production. In short, given the tremendous need for ag tech solutions we should all work to grow the use of precision farming and the application of wise data.

This piece was originally published in Forbes.

Young Guru, and the Future of Music

By: Eli Love

In the heart of Silicon Valley, a self-proclaimed nerd with far less than 99 problems addressed a crowd of startup CEOs and tech thought leaders about how a guy named Gimel Keaton could play a pivotal role in the creation of nearly all of Jay Z’s albums.

For the uninitiated, Keaton is one of the most notable and recognizable engineers in the history of hip hop. Discerning music fans know him as “Young Guru,” a nickname he picked up as a teenager when he taught African history classes at a community center. In a wide-ranging conversation with Andrew Keen that was much more than a discussion of rap music, Young Guru shared his perspectives on the future of work, music streaming, and the unique relationship he has with technology.

A self-proclaimed nerd who made “being a geek cool,” Young Guru described his ascent in the music industry as a result of curiosity, passion, and a diligent work ethic. His natural inquisitiveness, adaptability, and fluency in multiple subjects may have given him a distinct advantage in his own reinvention, while foreshadowing the future of work.

Read the full piece here.

St. Anthony’s and the Spirit of Giving

st. anthonysFor over six decades St. Anthony’s, an organization that provides support for those living in poverty, has opened its doors to San Franciscan’s in need of help. Offering a daily stream of hot meals, clean clothes, and a supportive community, St. Anthony’s represents the best sense of volunteerism. What first started as a dining room has evolved into a myriad of programs to more fully support those in need.

St. Anthony’s knows what it takes to get people back on their feet. They serve 40% of all free meals in San Francisco, which comes out to 3,000 meals a day. However St. Anthony’s is much more than a dining room, and by opening the Tenderloin’s only free technology center, they have taken another step towards bridging the digital divide afflicting the city’s homeless population. San Francisco has quickly become the epicenter of the tech universe, and being able to flourish in this city now requires a certain degree of tech literacy.

The success of this program is tangible, and over 100 homeless and low-income people use the center every day to build employment skills. The power of technology is vast, and in addition to the job-training component of the program, St. Anthony’s is also working with developers to harness technology to blunt the challenges the homeless face.

As Thanksgiving approaches, we at CALinnovates want to highlight an organization that truly embodies the spirit of giving. By serving as a refuge to San Franciscans in need, St. Anthony’s understands what it means to give back. We invite you to check out the great work St. Anthony’s does, and volunteer if you have the chance.

To those spending time with family and friends as well as those seeking respite, a warm meal and a helping hand at St. Anthony’s and elsewhere, we wish you a happy Thanksgiving.

2015’s Investment Heroes

By Eli Love

The Progressive Policy Institute’s (PPI) recent report, “U.S. Investment Heroes of 2015: Why Innovation Drives Investment” highlights companies that are leading the way by investing domestically and details reasons for our country’s current “investment drought.”

The investment drought is a recent trend identified by PPI defined by a decline in business capital spending in the U.S. economy. This is troublesome because “sustainable economic growth, job creation, and rising real wages require domestic business investment.” While innovation is occurring at a rapid pace in the telecom, energy, and Internet industries, other sectors of the economy like healthcare, manufacturing, and transportation are finding themselves left behind.

The companies that are investing domestically are providing tangible benefits to American consumers. For instance, Amazon continued to invest in its technology infrastructure and cloud computing platform Amazon Web Services (AWS) which stores the majority of its servers in the U.S. AWS provides reliable and low-cost infrastructure services to businesses in the form of cloud computing. Whether or not your small business needs to store more data, launch a website, or distribute content at low costs, AWS gives business owners the ability to do so. Investments like these are critical to maintaining the openness of the Internet as a platform for entrepreneurship, giving business owners the flexibility they need for success.

AT&T and Verizon, who rank one and two respectively on the list, are investing tens of billions of dollars to upgrade and maintain our country’s wireless and wireline networks. Doing so ensures that the United States continues to lead the world in 4G LTE by providing consumers with the fastest speeds. Your ability to quickly stream video, run multiple apps, and surf the web on your phone are direct results of the investment telecom companies are making to ensure the quality of their networks.

The top investment heroes, companies like AT&T, Google, and Verizon, exist in industries that are innovating rapidly. This in turn creates new markets and new opportunities for further investment. “Uneven innovation,” or rapid innovation in some industries coupled with stagnant advancements in others, “leads to a lack of investment, weak productivity growth, and sluggish growth of real wages.” While telecom, energy, and Internet companies are leading the way, what needs to happen to bring the rest of the economy up to speed?

First, according to the PPI, government policy should be focused on encouraging inclusive innovation. To do this, government needs to remove burdensome regulatory frameworks that discourage industries like healthcare from maximizing investment opportunities. In addition, the FCC’s recent decision to regulate broadband providers by imposing Title II regulations already seems to have had a negative effect. In the first half of 2015, telecom companies are spending at an 11% slower pace than this time last year.

Second, a focus on tax reform that, “imposes a lower rate on investments in intellectual property such as patents or copyrights” will go a long way towards rectifying a disparate economic climate.

Policymakers need to place a greater emphasis on innovation and domestic investment because over-regulation plus a tax system riddled with inefficiencies and inequities harms not only the economy, but hardworking Americans as well.



Eli Love is chief of staff at CALinnovates.

The Internet of Things (IoT): What it is and How to Get There

The “Internet of Things” (IoT) exists on such a large scale, and presents so many opportunities for economic and social benefit, that it can be difficult to fully grasp. The first thing you often hear people say about IoT is that it means everything will be connected. Experts and prescient minds estimate that by the end of this decade the IoT will consist of 25 to 50 billion devices and will add $15 trillion to the global economy. These numbers are big, and the opportunities are even greater, so how can the U.S. and the world position itself to embrace all that IoT has to offer?

While there are numerous issues that need to be ironed out before IoT and the 5G platform it will operate on come into play, it’s important to note that the 4G LTE network we’re currently operating on has a lot left to offer. We are most likely five years away from living in a world where the IoT and 5G are fully embedded in our lives, and the U.S. is in great shape to set the standards for both considering we are the global leader in 4G. However in order to allow this evolution to take place, spectrum, security, and regulatory humility are critical.

Spectrum is a finite resource, you cannot innovate or invent more of it, so we need to make the most efficient use of what we have. The IoT will drive six to seven times more internet traffic, and an abundant quantity of spectrum is critical to ensure out networks will operate at max capacity. Luckily we are taking some important steps today such as investing in better infrastructure and exploring other bandwidths that can be used. The government, who holds the most spectrum, is also helping by freeing up higher bandwidths for consumer use, but we need to press our elected officials to move faster.

The IoT presents many opportunities for economic and social benefit. Whether it be monitoring the energy output of your home for purposes of conservation or giving you real-time analytics on your health and vitals, the IoT offers enormous potential. However a massive number of connected devices also creates the need for better security. Innovation is an accelerating train, and the market incentives to improve connectivity can sometimes outpace the need to ensure secure networks. It is important that mobile operators and the private sector pay close attention to the security of their products and prevent unintended linkages between devices that leave them vulnerable to hackers and nefarious third parties.

Lastly, innovation is moving rapidly and the sprint towards IoT and 5G has already begun. It’s no secret that government and regulatory agencies operate on a slower pace, and this is only compounded when you factor in the “regulatory soup” that will emerge when you have numerous industries working together to bring connectivity to every device. Working towards a climate of regulatory humility is critical to making sure that consumers in the U.S. and around the globe are able to fully realize the benefits IoT has to offer.

Eli Love is chief of staff at CALinnovates

Is LTE-U the Answer to the Spectrum Crunch?

With more and more noise surrounding a potential spectrum crunch, the United States’ ability to manufacture innovative solutions to this obstacle is critical. The world is going mobile, and as a result, consumers need to feel confident that their ability to surf the web, stream high quality video, and download apps at lightning fast speeds won’t be impinged upon by a lack of available spectrum.

For those who are unfamiliar, spectrum fuels wireless technology and innovation. Most importantly, there is a finite amount, meaning that we cannot manufacture or magically conjure more of it into existence. According to Dr. Thomas Lenard, President and Senior Fellow at the Technology Policy Institute, the government holds between 60 to 70 percent of the spectrum suitable for wireless broadband. The government needs to reallocate unused or fallow spectrum, but we also must be diligent and find creative solutions to solve this challenge. Luckily the government is taking steps in the right direction, and the recent Budget Deal includes a provision mandating the FCC and Department of Commerce to identify 30 MHz of government spectrum for commercial use.

However more still needs to be done, and one of the solutions currently in the works is to use LTE-U, or unlicensed spectrum, to carry excess traffic in heavily congested areas.

Most of us know the frustration of being unable to get online or access the Internet when we’re at a shopping mall or a concert. To alleviate this all too common point of irritation, LTE-U will allow wireless providers to offload traffic in densely congested areas onto the unlicensed 5GHz frequency. This will allow wireless providers to boost speeds and connectivity to benefit consumers.

Sounds great, right? Well it turns out not everyone is so sure.

Opponents of LTE-U claim that the problem with it lies right there within its name. Unlicensed spectrum, specifically the 5GHz variety on which LTE-U plans to operate, is also the same frequency that Wi-Fi uses. The fear that Google and the National Cable & Telecommunications Agency have is that since LTE-U and Wi-Fi will be sharing the same frequency, the presence of LTE-U will degrade the existing quality of Wi-Fi. However these concerns are unsubstantiated.

LTE-U is not meant to replace, but instead supplement LTE’s quality of service in areas of dense congestion (i.e. stadiums, shopping malls, or concert venues). In addition, a recent study coming out of Japan found evidence that LTE-U is 1.6 times more bandwidth efficient than Wi-Fi. As Roslyn Layton eloquently stated, what this means in layman’s terms is that, “…LTE-U may be a better neighbor to Wi-Fi than Wi-Fi is to itself.”

The bottom line is that wireless carriers are facing a huge explosion in demand, and LTE-U offers a practical and benign solution that serves to boost speeds and connectivity. It is a consumer-friendly advance.

A balanced spectrum portfolio is important to wireless technology innovation, and any company that is willing to play by the rules should be free to utilize the public assets that are available to them.

Wi-Fi is a crucial component of spurring an innovative economy. As FCC Commissioner Jessica Rosenworcel correctly notes, “We need more Wi-Fi because in a world of constant connections it is responsible for billions of dollars of economic activity—and growth.” The Wi-Fi Alliance maintains that the worldwide economic value of Wi-Fi in 2013 was over $200 billion, and this number is only going to grow.

The ability for LTE-U to boost speeds and connectivity for consumers without infringing on the quality of Wi-Fi seems to be a win-win for everyone. Just this week, Verizon filed a request with FCC Commissioner Tom Wheeler in the hopes that he will allow them to offer native Wi-Fi Calling. It would be nonsensical for wireless providers to propose a technology that would hamper the quality of a resource they rely on as well.

We should certainly encourage the FCC to ensure there is efficient compatibility between LTE-U and Wi-Fi while leading the way to unleash new swaths of licensed and unlicensed spectrum. With the proper set of non-burdensome, clearly defined rules to the pathway in place, the marketplace should embrace LTE-U as a rational solution to a perplexing challenge that is only getting worse every time a new wireless device gets activated.


Eli Love is chief of staff at CALinnovates.

Getting ready for the 5G revolution

By: Eli Love

What does the current state of 5G and Picasso have in common? Well, according to FCC Chairman Tom Wheeler, quite a lot. The expectations surrounding the next generation of wireless technology are multifaceted and complex. Currently, everyone who looks at it sees something different. The arrival of 5G is not really a shift in technology at all, but a paradigm shift that will revolutionize the way we think about mobile technology and interact with the world around us. After tuning into the 5G: Accelerating Next Generation Wireless Opportunities webinar, I listened to former White House advisor Jim Kohlenberger discuss what 5G will mean for our lives as consumers, and what the U.S. needs to do to maintain its leadership in mobile technology.

First of all, what is 5G? Simply put, 5G will be the first living network, meaning every real world object can become sentient. Kohlenberger explained this point by addressing the Internet’s three revolutions. The first revolution connected places, the second connected people, and the third (5G) will connect things. 5G technologies will accelerate our ability to innovate, creating opportunities for economic growth and advancement. Imagine streaming ultra high definition movies on your phone that are 16 times clearer than standard HD movies, or downloading a 3D film in six seconds rather than the six minutes it currently takes. 5G technology is not just about watching movies on your phone, though, its about unleashing a new wave of technologies that will put us in control of the world around us.

Sounds great, right? Luckily, the U.S. is already in great shape to take the lead in ushering in the era of 5G, but other countries are quickly working to catch up. Kohlenberger noted that the U.S. leads the world with about half of all 4G connections, which is important because 5G will be built on our 4G networks. However the EU, South Korea, China, Russia, and Japan are already working to outpace us. This is significant not just because we want to be the first in the world to usher in 5G, but because we want to set the rules for one of the most significant technological advancements of our generation. Doing so will allow us to harness these technologies to improve the livelihood of all Americans.

This leads to a most pressing question: what do we need to do to get there? On top of setting a policy path that states our objectives for 5G, we need to allocate more spectrum or this future will remain a fantasy. Spectrum is the fuel that will drive this revolution, and while 5G can utilize 3G and 4G spectrums, it will need much more to prove beneficial. We need to incentivize government agencies to free up more spectrum by letting them know the benefits 5G technologies have to offer down the road. Reducing our energy consumption; improving the health of Americans; helping farmers produce more food with less resources; and encouraging the design of smart cities that will reduce the wasted time, money, and fuel spent sitting in traffic are all tangible realities.

The 5G revolution is quickly approaching, let’s not let the opportunity slip away.