Tuesday, February 27, 2024

Stopping crime at the farmgate

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Rural crime has always been a headache for farmers but an innovative new system aims to give them peace of mind.
When a vehicle approaches the property, Farmgate reads the licence plate and the AI will determine what happens next. Authorised vehicles, like milk tankers and normal farm vehicles, are automatically admitted, but if the vehicle is unknown to the system, the barrier arm drops to keep them out.
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Gobsmacked that so many farmers fall victim to burglaries even in the middle of the day, Michael Smith and Andrew Sing wanted to find a way to help deter thieves from entering farms. After a bit of research and many sessions at the drawing board, the idea for Farmgate was born, a system that uses artificial intelligence to protect a farm entrance.

“In our research, we uncovered staggering statistics from the 2021 Federated Farmers and New Zealand Police rural crime survey,” Farmgate co-founder Andrew Sing said.

“It highlighted more than 50% of the respondents had had some kind of rural crime or theft within the last two years so we knew there was a need for some kind of deterrent at the entrance.”

The first challenge they knew they were facing was getting power and connectivity to a farm entrance, so they started exploring options around cameras and connecting solar panels and batteries.

Smith spent many late nights on the phone trying to source components from China, but it wasn’t until Auckland-based import company Epic Sourcing came on board they started making good progress. Epic Sourcing specialises in helping New Zealand companies source products from overseas, in particular China.

“We secured all the different components we needed and started designing the system in-house but we soon realised we needed help and outsourced engineers and a support team to help get us off the ground,” Sing said.

“So we brought in teams of engineers for the fabrication and electronic engineers to build the system, and then we got it out on farms to try it.”

The system has two key components, a solar panel unit and a camera that reads vehicle licence plates at the farm entrance and connects to a barrier arm system. The barrier arm is a physical deterrent but it is positioned not to get in the way of normal everyday traffic, and allows bigger vehicles such as milk tankers enough space to pull off the road if the barrier arm is down.

When a vehicle approaches the property, Farmgate reads the licence plate and artificial intelligence will determine what happens next. Authorised vehicles, like milk tankers and normal farm vehicles, are automatically admitted, but if the vehicle is unknown to the system, the barrier arm drops to keep them out.

The system will send the licence plate and a photo of the vehicle to the farmer via an app and to a call centre that has been briefed on what types of vehicles are automatically permitted. The farmer can then make a decision on whether they want to permit the vehicle on their property.

“It’s using snapshot technology, which sends a snapshot in time rather than having continuous video streams that need to be stored on hard drives or in the cloud and farmers have to go back through to find what they need,” Sing said.

“The system is quick and efficient and is designed to be unobtrusive to allow a farm to go about its business.”

The system is also connected to the police’s stolen vehicle register, so if a vehicle at the gate is stolen, the farmer and the police will be notified.

Since they started promoting Farmgate the pair have been surprised by the interest they have received from a range of industries. It was designed initially with dairy farms in mind but it has attracted many others too.

“We’ve had a number of chicken farms interested in installing the system, largely for biosecurity, and we’ve got inquiries about them going into quarries for the health and safety element.

“Anyone who needs an access control system will find it valuable.”

When it is installed, the farmer pays for the hardware and installation up front and then there is an ongoing subscription fee, like having a broadband connection.

Sing and Smith have been in discussion with various insurance companies about the risk mitigation Farmgate offers users. They ran a deal with Vero Insurance at the Christchurch Agricultural Show, giving cash back to any of its customers who purchased a system.

They see the biggest benefits as having visibility of entrances and having control over who can enter the property easily, which helps protect assets. 

“It’s a deterrent right at the farm entrance and gives people peace of mind to feel safe on their own properties.

“Crime is definitely increasing, particularly in rural areas, and this is a tool to help manage risk for families and businesses.”

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