With the growing adoption of the Internet of Things (IoT), connected devices have entered in every part of our life, from healthcare, home automation, logistics, to smart urban areas and industrial IoT. Farming has seen various innovative changes in the most recent decades, ending up more industrialized and innovation-driven. By utilizing different brilliant agribusiness devices, farmers have overseen the way toward growing yields and raising livestock, making it increasingly predictable and improving its efficiency. Nofence has developed a revolutionary IoT-Technology for grazing animals that give the farmer virtual fencing as a service.
The solution can remotely fence and move animals which give them access to good, varied pasture lands. The system consists of a solar-powered GPS collar and a digital map. When an animal crosses the Nofence boundary, the collar starts emitting signals that guide the animals within the defined perimeter. A mild electric stimulus serves as the ultimate aversive that makes them quickly learn and respond to the signals. This keeps them within the virtual boundaries which is the reason why farmers will easily adopt the solution. Also, the collars collect a huge amount of data that will be the basis for machine learning algorithms and a huge span of other opportunities.
The Incredible Journey
At Nofence, the team has a real understanding of agriculture, and several of them worked with animal husbandry. Consequently, the company is developing a product that will be important to our own lives and animals, testing the product themselves and putting a strong emphasis on sustainability and animal welfare.
The company’s vision is to improve animal welfare, make it easier to rear animals, promote sustainable food production and help people to make better use of pasture resources throughout the world.
Nofence was founded on 18 April 2011. However, the idea behind the company goes back much further – to the early 1990s – when the inventor Oscar Hovde Berntsen first realized the benefits of virtual fencing. In autumn 2014, the Norwegian animal welfare authorities gave Nofence the green light to start testing its system. A major trial of the system was carried out using goats at four separate locations. The results showed that the system worked as intended and that goats were able to understand it.
In summer and autumn 2015, pilot projects were carried out using goats for landscape care. This was done to document the contribution of goats to landscape care using an upgraded prototype 2. These pilot projects were carried out in parallel with further programming and development of the user interface. In 2018, Nofence was launched commercially.
The Inspiring Leaders
Oscar Hovde Berntsen is the inventor and driving force behind the company. Growing up on a small-scale farm on the north-west coast of Norway, he developed a deep passion for sustainable farming. He saw how difficult it was to utilize the available feed resources for the livestock because of the high cost and difficulty setting up physical fences in steep terrain. On the other side, there was the same problem even on the flat grasslands, where farmers wanted to systematically move the animals to maximize the yield. How could we solve that with technology? He realized. On top of this Oscar saw that his father’s livestock liked being out on the fresh grass outside the fenced area. So, the idea of Nofence was born 35 years ago – Oscar got his engineering degree later on and worked some years in the automation industry. In 2007, the technology was starting to get mature enough and he decided to make the first prototype that proved his concept. Now the product is real, but the development continues. Oscar is now Chief Technology Officer at Nofence, and Erik Harstad stepped in as CEO in 2017.
Currently, Nofence uses 2G and LTECAT-M1 Mobile network. The company is also working with integration to use LoRa and Low Orbit satellite communication.
Listening to Customers
The company is still a small player, but Tele2 IoT soon discovered the potential impact with its solution and saw that this could be a huge thing, so Nofence partnered with them. Because of the great potential, the company believes that Tele2 IoT and the other players in the IoT industry are really listening to their needs.
Leveraging Data to Offer Insights
Nofence’s devices are constantly collecting position data and accelerometer data together with all the signal data that keep animals within the virtual boundaries. The company is also looking into connection to ear tags with temperature sensors and more. Erik believes that all this data has tremendous opportunities with AI in terms of extra insight for the customers to make better decisions or selling large scale data for the scientists as an example. And this is why IoT & big data companies like Nofence will see high valuations in the near future.
Driving Innovation Through Partnerships
Nofence is currently working with several interesting potential partnerships that it cannot share details on yet. Tele2 IoT is a key partner for M2M. The company recently also partnered with the leading Scandinavian GIS/Cloud company Geodata AS which will provide secure and customized cloud solutions for its big data. But it is the close cooperation and feedback from its customers that really drive the innovation further.
Rigid Regulations of Animal Welfare
They say that “Hardware is hard”. The company has experienced a few hardware challenges on its way and felt that risk. But the greatest challenge according to Erik has been on the regulatory side. “Norway has one of the strongest regulations on animal welfare, and some would argue that starting up in Norway was insane – And it really was difficult to convince the regulators that our solution has no animal welfare issues. We did this the scientific way – Ph.D. Candidate Silje Eftang and Professor Knut Egil Boe as her mentor, did a series of scientific studies that concluded positively, and lead to the fact that our product is now legal in Norway – This will make it far easier to scale it up to new markets, he added.
Achievements and Growth
Nofence has many signs that its product perfectly fit its customers need. In its recent survey, the company asked its customers, “What they would do if its product ceased to exist.” Surprisingly, 90% answered that they would quit and sell their animals because going back to physical fencing was too expensive and time-consuming and without the extreme flexibility Nofence provides. This is also confirmed by the extremely low churn rate (lost customers) of 1.5 % since launching its first pilot in 2015. Nofence has had its share of technical issues, but its customers have stood by the company. In March 2019, as much as 30% of its sales were to existing customers.
Big Data and IoT for a Smart Connected World
On the future roadmap, Erik said, “It’s in our vision to see our products spread all across the globe as the future way to keep livestock on pasture. This is happening in our corner of the IoT Industry, but one can easily imagine the impact IoT will have in all other industries as well. IoT will change the way of living and how we are doing business, but it’s the stream of big data that give IoT-industry that extra layer of possibilities that we see investors are triggering on – And that is something we also see will become a tremendous asset in the future.”