Plant-e: from Plant to Power - Gaining Insights through IoT

New business potential blooms as plants provide key insights for city management, analytics, and combatting climate change.

  • Expertise in this case
Executive summary

To tap into environmental data from its plant electricity products, Plant-e partnered with Codit for a fast and forward-looking IoT solution. Through its cloud-native integration and Azure IoT dashboard, the pilot solution collects and shares information from the living plants, bringing to life new opportunities in data service.

  • Challenge
  • Approach
  • Results

The Challenge

Exploring its data service potential, Plant-e wanted to cultivate data from its electricity-generating plant boxes. The company set out to test how data-capturing sensors could provide end-users, like municipalities, water authorities, and conservation partners, with actionable insights from its energy-producing plants as well as their environment. To show customers the technology’s data intelligence capabilities, Plant-e needed not only a feasible way to capture and collect varying data types from multiple sensors, but also a clear and comprehensive interface to present them – all on a challenging timeline.

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Using its patented P-MFC technology, Plant-e develops products that generate sustainable electricity from living plants. These unique plant boxes collect the electrons that are released around the plantroots in the soil by bacteria and convert it into green power. The result is a renewable power source that is not just clean but actually climate-enhancing, improving air quality and increasing biodiversity.

While the plant boxes were already making a positive impact on the environment, under the surface, they also held a plethora of critical environmental data (such as smog levels, water and air quality) that positioned Plant-e to do even more. The company knew that leveraging this essential information with the right solution would open new opportunities in serving its customers as well as in supporting its mission to combat climate change.

With its products literally rooted in a wealth of information and its company expanding in production capacity, Plant-e saw an opportunity to evolve its innovative power source into an intelligent data source. In order to enable the efforts of stakeholders in city management, water and air monitoring, as well as conservation organizations, the company wanted to explore methods for aggregating and sharing the environmental data from its plant boxes.

“After 10 years in business, we had reached a point where we could scale up our products, standardizing them, automating them, and making them available in much larger numbers to larger groups of customers,” says Plant-e Founder and CEO, Marjolein Helder, “And we could see the advantage of environmental statistics through a combination of questions from the market, inquiries from potential partners, and our own objective to stay technology-ready. Wanting to be proactive and take advantage of the opportunity to evolve our business, we decided that it was the right time to start working on plant boxes with integrated, environmental sensors. We got in touch with Microsoft, who were very excited about it, and the idea started growing.”

To gain critical feedback and valuable insights on how it could move forward with the solution, Plant-e targeted a fast-approaching date for its pilot launch.

With no time to spare, and no previous experience with IoT projects, Plant-e needed a knowledgeable and efficient IoT partner to help it build a workable solution within a tight turnaround.

Helder explains, “We dove in without any knowledge about sensors, software, hardware, etc. We didn’t know what was possible or how to organize a project around data acquisition, especially in such a short timeframe. Our contacts at Microsoft recommended Codit as the partner who could help set up the hardware and interface to make visible to future customers exactly what can be done with this technology.”

Codit’s enthusiasm created a very positive and cooperative working relationship.

Marjolein Helder Founder & CEO at Plant-e

The Approach

Codit used the efficacy and agility of the Microsoft Azure cloud to build a future-ready solution that integrates and aggregates data from the physical sensors into a digital interface. Bringing together various types of environmental and performance statistics into the cloud, the Codit team leveraged Azure IoT Hub and IoT Central to share the multi-stream data in a unified dashboard for stakeholders.

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After working with third-party partners to implement the data-capturing sensors in its plant boxes, Plant-e turned to Codit for the data-sharing arm of the project: collecting telemetry information, aggregating it, and delivering it in an understandable format.

“Our scope was to get the sensor information from site and put it into Microsoft Azure,” says Anil Charoe, Codit Sales & Account Manager, “And from there, represent it on a dashboard to visualize the data using basic analytics.”

The Codit team connected the remote sensors to the cloud, implementing FTP endpoints and Logic Apps to integrate the separate streams of data, their varying data types, and differing technical implementations. Each of the data streams was then sent into Azure IoT Central, where the dashboard would be developed.

Sagar Sharma, Codit Azure Architect, explains, “In one data stream, information was sent from the remote sensors in the plant boxes to an FTP location, from which Logic Apps picked up the data and sent through to Azure IoT Hub, the backend for Azure IoT Central. For another stream, we implemented a push mechanism that exposed the Logic App as an http endpoint before continuing through to the centralized cloud.”

To jump-start the configuration, the Codit team leveraged the Microsoft Escalator SaaS. With this time-saving tool, the team could more efficiently configure elements like data properties, datatypes, and connection types leading from the sensors to the IoT solution and focus on developing the more complex elements of the integration project.

Once Codit had connected the sensor data streams, the team then defined the devices and data properties in Azure IoT Central to build the ideal display. To provide a wide range of usability for different stakeholder needs, the team built two dashboards: one showing performance statistics introduced with the Smart City Solution pilot project and another as an interface that future customers could use to assess environmental data specific to their objectives.

The Results

Thanks to insights from both the pilot IoT project and the process behind developing it, Plant-e has laid the groundwork for reaping data intelligence from its plant boxes. The enlightening test run has positioned the company for future advancements that could help customers analyze environmental parameters, optimize processes, monetize data, and even prioritize efforts.

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Plant-e’s resulting pilot Smart City Solution pulls diverse, real-life data into a sleek and straightforward dashboard. Even in trial form, the scalable solution has brought new perspectives and offered flexible options for putting the cloud-native technology to use in the future.

On the display end, the agile interface and dashboard can be leveraged to gather performance data, environmental information, or a combination of both, aligning with the specific sensor variables or stakeholder objectives of each project. The user-friendly interface design makes it easy for all end-users to take advantage of the innovative technology – regardless of their experience with IoT.

Marjolein Helder, Plant-e Founder & CEO, notes, “The dashboard was so easy to navigate. Even someone without IT knowledge was able understand how it works within minutes. That was an eye opener for me.”

Developed in a short timeframe, the resulting Smart City Solution offers essential learnings for Plant-e’s business plan on the long term. Helder explains, “Within basically two months’ time, the entire project went from idea to implementation. In just one week of development, Codit set up an interface and a dashboard that provided a great deal of insight into what we can do with the data we’re gathering, how much more efficiently we can use it, and to what extent it can be interesting and advantageous to our customers.”

The pilot solution opens the door to new business models and product offerings that customers from a wide range of industries could leverage to develop strategy, improve operations, and build efforts on actionable data. As such, the cloud-connected plant boxes could further strengthen Plant-e’s role in protecting the environment, enhancing city management projects, supporting nature conservation efforts, and enabling plant-powered electricity on an even larger scale.

With essential takeaways from the project, Plant-e has a better perspective on what needs to be in place to make this opportunity a reality. The company continues to work on the technology and business plan behind the idea, making improvements and looking at potential next steps towards releasing a solution in the near future.

Still in the initial stages, Plant-e is rapidly navigating the space for this market and readying its business for the natural next step in its innovation journey: advancing in its primary mission to protect the environment with/through powerful insights from IoT.

“While we’re exploring new avenues in sensors and data services to enhance our offering, our company’s core purpose is still at the heart of our product,” Helder explains, “As opposed to other players in this field, we’re delivering end-to-end solutions that are basically climate products. Our plant boxes are much more than just another sensor product, not just informing us about the environment but actually improving it – bringing more green to urban environments, capturing carbon, and increasing biodiversity.”

A word from the client

“Codit is a partner willing to guide you through the process. In addition to its fantastic work and full understanding of the data - what we could deliver and how we could use it - the team also took time to answer our questions, coaching us through the world of interfaces, software, and dashboards.”

Marjolein Helder Founder & CEO

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