Johan Wendt discusses how IRRIOT can fight water scarcity

IRRIOT: We have asked Johan Wendt about water scarcity, IRRIOT as a solution, the IoT, and technological innovations in the field of precision agriculture.

Would you please tell us a little about IRRIOT and the company’s vision?

IRRIOT is the European pioneer in wireless precision irrigation. It implements the next generation of commercial irrigation solutions. Our vision is to fight water scarcity and ensure healthy food for our world’s growing population.

How was the idea born? How did you come up with the name of the company?

IRRIOT stands for IRRigation Internet Of Things. The idea came to life when our CTO Mikhail left a long career at Ericsson where he was responsible for developing professional telecommunication – both hardware and software. When Mikhail was “free” to do what he wanted he started looking into several sectors trying to find out which ones had been set behind when it came to technological development. When he realised that no one had one developed a functional wireless IoT automation system for irrigation he started working on the prototype and the rest is history.

What do you think the biggest challenge for humanity is and how can it be solved?

The world is facing climate change due to human behavior – this can be solved with legislation, technology and changed behaviour. I don’t see this as a “mission impossible”. Our greatest challenge is to implement more empathy in our world and the understanding that small actions of kindness grow exponentially if we all contribute a little bit.

When did you become specifically interested in the problem of future freshwater shortages?

Water is the number one source of life on earth. Already in the 90s, I started my education as a master of science in civil engineering with a focus on hydrology.

How is your company trying to address the problem of water shortages, water scarcity?

Using IRRIOT’s wireless precision irrigation automation system the farmers will reduce the water usage by 50%, increase the crop yield by 30%, optimize human resources, reduce carbon footprint, and reduce eutrophication and soil erosion.

What other innovative solutions – beyond your activities – are important to tackle the water crisis?

Drip irrigation and several other important irrigation technological developments are very important but also to make the irrigation decisions data-driven (just like we do). Most farmers irrigate based on gut feeling rather than data.

Are there companies in the world of high-tech and technology whose innovations you admire?

Sure and they are plentiful. For instance, software that from an early age can discover dyslexia. The list is long.

Who did you start the company with? Is there a story behind how you met?

We are three co-founders – Johan(me), Alex (CEO) and Mikhail (CTO). Alex and Mikhail started working on the first prototype – they are the brain of the company. They needed an engine and brought me in.

Johan Wendt

How does the technology work exactly and why is it different from other solutions?

Using the latest telecommunication technology (LoRa), IoT, high precision sensors and cloud technology we deliver a platform that secures optimal soil conditions, by intelligently dimensioning the water supply to the intended zone.

All the data collected in the cloud storage will allow farmers to review their logs and analyse data to optimise water consumption and forecast their yield every season in regard to climate change and the growing population.

A unique selling point we want to highlight is the capability to automate the irrigation based on sensors – completely wireless. On top of that, we have developed a frost protection irrigation system that today is integrated into our system and soon be commercially available. The very same system could be used for the cooling-off plants, which is common in warmer areas. Our solution has also a very competitive price, compared with other mostly wire-based solutions available on the market today, which will lower the entry barrier for farmers who couldn’t afford it before, resulting in greater savings on planets’ resources.

How does the cloud technology work?

All data and software are stored in the cloud (Microsoft Azure). Combined with a user-friendly interface, this allows you to take full control of the irrigation from wherever you are in the world.

How do you think IOT can change the world we live in?

This will allow us to make our hardware smarter – which in the long run will result in less resources used (e.g. less water used) and give a higher output (e.g. higher crop yield).

Who are your competitors? Are there competitors using very similar technology?

99% of our competitors solve the very same problem by digging down thousands of kilometers of copper cables covered in plastic in some of the best soil in the world. These systems are expensive, fragile and extremely environmentally harmful.

There are some companies that try to automate irrigation wireless but they are either using old technology (e.g. 3G sim cards) or completely lack redundancy (e.g. doesn’t work when internet is down).

Who are your customers?

The majority of our customers come from horticulture and agriculture but also parks and public areas, the timber industry, cemeteries, nurseries and sports arenas. Anywhere where you will find irrigation.

How are you going to utilize big data?

To make even more and more accurate decisions and predictions. This will result in even lower water usage and higher crop yields.

How are you planning to expand the business? What innovations are you currently working on?

We were just granted € 500,000 to integrate Vivents sensors into our platform. They are specialized in harnessing and understanding the electromagnetic impulses sent out by plants. With them, in our system, we will create a system where plants will be able to irrigate and fertilize themselves. A plant sends out signals when it is low on water or a specific nutrient and this is picked up by IRRIOT which will automatically supply the plant with what it needs.

That sounds incredible. Plants’ needs will be recognized via special electromagnetic impulses. Who would have imagined such a solution combined with precision irrigation a few decades ago! What are your plans for the next 5-10 years?

To automate and digitalize irrigation all around the world.

What are you most proud of?

In the long perspective – ensuring that more people have access to water and healthy food. In the short perspective that we survived 2020 which was a terrible year for us due to Covid-19. Today we are a strong and thriving company.

Thank you, Johan, for the interview. I wish you all the best and good luck with your fantastic, latest developments.

Andrea Nyilas is a Life Cycle Assessment and Sustainability Consultant and a Sustainability and Environmental journalist. She holds a Master of Science degree in Environmental Sciences and Policy from Central European University, in addition to a Master of Arts degree in Economics from the Corvinus University of Budapest. She is particularly interested in circular economy, natural resource management, and waste reduction.