This blog first appeared as Steve Wunker's piece for Forbes
The Smart Home has been a consumer market for two decades, combining temperature, water, and movement sensors to improve home maintenance and security. But the Smart Yard? This is new, and a recently launched company called ePlant thinks it knows where the trend is going.
According to to ePlant’s CEO, Graham Hine, “Trees are not only loved by people, but yards have an incredible impact on property values.” Indeed, the National Association of Realtors reports that landscaping can have up to a 30% impact on a home’s sale price. There is both an emotional and financial impact to improving the health of showpiece trees.
Previously, solutions for appropriate tree maintenance were complex and imperfect. Homeowners could learn about symptoms of tree distress, but that was time-consuming and error prone. Feeding pictures of trees into a computerized system could yield all sorts of false indicators, as trees can have a limited language of symptoms to express ill health. Detailed measurements required jerry-rigged wiring of sensors, battery, solar panel, radio, and antenna – not for the faint of heart.
A New Solution
ePlant, for one, believes that it has a far more elegant solution enabled by rapid advances in AI. Hine describes the set-up as follows. “A simple one-eighth inch screw mounts onto a tree, and it attaches to a sensor. That sensor detects micron-level changes in the size of the tree trunk’s diameter. As the tree transpires water, which is its primary metabolic process, the diameter changes size during the day, around the width of a human hair. This is a pulse, like a human pulse, that tells us a lot, particularly when combined with data about weather or irrigation. We can see how the tree responds to these events.”
The data transmits via a long-range wireless network to an Internet-connected gateway, and then ePlant’s AI systems can link readings from the tree to atmospheric data, the responses of other trees, and more to create a complex model of stimulus and response. This is algorithmic AI at work, bolstered by Machine Learning that hones the model to predict how healthy and distressed trees should behave.
Generative AI Too
But that’s not all. ePlant then links the outputs of this algorithmic AI to a generative AI conversational engine, putting the results into engaging text form and enabling the “tree” to talk to its owner about its condition and needs. When queried, the “tree” can discuss its response to water, risk of infestation, and more.
Why? Hine says, “People tend to fire and forget these things. They use the app once and then stop. Making this gamified and interesting was what we thought needed to happen to make this a successful consumer product.”
Others in the industry have focused on distinct aspects of the smart yard, like lighting and sprinklers. But Hine is focused on other applications such as farming uses. By way of example, he says “Vineyards don’t want to overwater grapes, because you don’t want to kill them and you want the right degree of sweetness. But you also don’t want to underwater because you won’t have as much fruit. So getting the balance right is part of precision agriculture.”
Beyond that, ePlant is looking at using sensors to assess carbon sequestration, forest health, and the spread of disease. Satellite data is one way these factors are tracked today, but sensor-level information provides a largely distinct set of variables to assess.
The company’s TreeTag starts at $149, including the service subscription. Time will tell if homeowners associate that level of value with this particular device. However, as people place increasing importance on the outdoors, the broader bet is that consumers will become ever more willing to invest in devices that ensure that their small corner of the environment remains healthy and thriving.
by Steve Wunker