Sensors help firms get crucial data real-time

Upande Ltd chief executive Mark de Blois and
Upande Ltd chief executive Mark de Blois and Magana Flowers CEO Nicholas Ambanya look at the VipiMo gadget installed at a greenhouse. PHOTO | COURTESY 

Ideal temperature is crucial for optimum growth of commercial flowers. This can be a tedious process if one is dealing with a huge farm such as Magana Flowers in Kiambu County.

The farm used to monitor the flowers’ temperature manually, going into each greenhouse with a thermometer. This took a lot of effort and time.

However, technology has radically changed this process, reducing it to an armchair affair. Today, Nicholas Ambanya, the CEO keeps tabs of a graph from his office which gives him an updated temperature and humidity every 10 minutes. The technology in question is referred to as VipiMo, a Kiswahili word for measurement.

Apart from temperature, the sensors measure water pressure, as well as water volume and energy flow depending on a clients' interests.

The ViPiMo solution has received praise and financial support from the Netherlands Embassy, the UK Department for International Development (DfID) and GSMA.


Upande has been investing in finding Internet of Things (IoT) solutions for nearly half a decade. Their customers include four water companies, two flower farms, a water vendor in Naivasha and a logistics company at the airport.

The logistics firm uses the system to track flowers exported to Europe.

For water companies, ViPiMo sensors help them reduce the losses of water through leakage and theft as well as commercial losses due to wrong readings caused by collusions between meter readers and customers.

“Our calculations in one water company revealed that in a year they are losing 50 to 70 per cent if you take into account what they produced, what they charge and what got lost,” says Luchiri Omoto, a consultant at Upande in charge of the ViPiMo product.

"The sensors measure volume, pressure and water level in tanks and are placed on the entire network and companies can tell if what they produced is what they billed and if not they can pinpoint where losses came from," he adds.

For Antony Kamotho, the CEO of Pure Fresh, a Naivasha-based water vending company, ViPiMo has allowed him to monitor his 28 outlets across town on a dashboard from within the comfort of his office for the last four months.

“ViPiMo sensors monitor the volumes flowing through – how much it is and at what time it flowed through. It is about keeping track of all that,” says Mr Kamotho

The devices are at each point of the network. Through graphs on the ViPiMo platform, Mr Kamotho can see what is happening in the field as the Pure Fresh team gets the water from boreholes, cleans it through a purification plant, transports it, deposits it in storage tanks at the different vending outlets and finally dispenses it through a vending unit from the tanks.

“You will get to know when there are leaks and also account better for what volumes have gone through the system at every stage. It is easy now to audit the system,” says Mr Kamotho.

He also gets alerts on his phone when there is an extraordinary event in the system, for instance, when the water in a storage tank is too low.

In the past, Mr Kimotho would have to send members of his team to physically check the water at each section using analogue meters. “The reading could be unreliable. You send people to collect the data and that takes time. By the time you analyse the data a lot of time has passed, so you can’t really tell what the problem is,” says Mr Kamotho.

“I knew gaps were there but I did not know how bad they were. I don’t because there was no analysis to show how much was happening.”

he adds

Mr Kamotho says he lost water through leakage and through a lack of accountability from people within the system.

“ViPiMo has made it so easy to screen the operations because now you can have a dashboard of everything that has happened all over. It means you can troubleshoot whenever there are issues much faster and it is easy to remedy,” says Mr. Kamotho.

Ideal day temperatures should not go below 23 degrees Celsius and night temperatures not below 13 degrees celsius. Ideal humidity is between 60 and 80 per cent.

The two environmental factors are inversely related and are crucial for the health and wield of the flowers produced.

The physical system is made up of a thumb-sized sensor and a pager-sized signal receiver in the field as well as a small router in the office.

It would like the gadget to set up trigger points so that if temperatures are too high and it is too far from the night to benefit from the natural cooling effects, the alarm goes off and workers on duty can reverse the effect.

Magana Flowers would also like the ViPiMo system to activate automatic solutions when the environmental factors are not ideal. At the moment, available Internet of Things (IoT) solutions for automatic responses are too expensive for local companies