Life at the extreme edge of the Cloud

Not long ago I was visiting a colleague at a ranch along a remote stretch of the Snake River in eastern Idaho.  It's not only a beautiful country, its a place where, despite being a naturally arid environment, agriculture thrives in the many towns and counties along the Snake River.

The Snake is a wonder - the source rises simultaneously out of the western ancient caldera of Yellowstone National Park with another major artery arising from the foot of the Grand Teton Mountains in Wyoming.  That these two rivers should join is a wonder in itself; the river travels across the entire width of Idaho then turns north for hundreds of miles and eventually feeds into the Columbia River in eastern Washington.  In all, this mighty river travels almost 1100 miles until it empties into the Columbia.  

The real treasure of the Snake is, of course, its water.  Due to the unique geology of the region (thousands of square kilometers of porous basalt lava constantly leak cold groundwater into the Snake) the river maintains a high flow rate and cold temperature for many hundreds of miles.  It is a fast, fierce river that cuts gorges so deep that base jumpers use it for parachuting.  This is a national treasure of geology, scenery and of course its water.

So, when I noticed an agricultural canal coming out from the Snake, I was amazed to see an IOT (internet of things) node so far out in the country.   The canal, which had a thundering supply of water running through a large gate valve and into the agricultural network, was fed through a remote control system.  All the parts were there - a motor to open the gate, solar panels and a large power supply to muscle the valve open and closed, a optical state detector (sensor) positioned to read the valve, a controller and a cell tower to receive commands.

This device, and likely dozens more strategically situated along the network, allow water rights to be exercised and seasonal distribution to occur to hundreds of square miles of agricultural land.  The automation of the device replaced a hand-cranked valve, previously chained and locked...which at one time required a person to come and open the valve manually.  

Now, of course, this can all be done from a distance; perhaps a controller in Idaho or perhaps much farther afield.  The network can be exquisitely tuned for optimum use of water in a water starved "West".  One wonders, can it also be co-opted from a distance?  How many security layers and passwords separate this network from ill-doers in far way countries?  How is this network primed to "fail safe" in the event of compromise?  How well documented is this system within the family of power and energy infrastructure grids in the west?

At the edge of the cloud you'll find everything from smart watches to smart rivers.  Regardless of how well or how poorly a given system may be engineered for robustness, security and reliability; it is critical to have perspectives from multiple industries when reviewing and implementing new infrastructure automation systems.

 Thinking differently about technology and its implications is what we are all about at Garnet Peak Associates.                  

John Kent        


Not your everyday IOT device.   A smart river.

Not your everyday IOT device.   A smart river.