Tech in the Commons: A Toolkit for Place-Based Nonprofits
Volunteers work on improvements to Bartram's Garden in Philadelphia, Saturday April 21, 2018, during Comcast Cares Day. Comcast Cares Day is Comcast and NBCUniversalÕs signature day of service and the nationÕs largest single-day corporate volunteer effort. This year, more than 80,000 Comcast volunteers participated in over 700 projects. Comcast Photo/ Joseph Kaczmarek
Case Study — Bartram’s Garden
As part of Comcast Cares Day 2018, the machineQ team outfitted the oldest botanical garden in North America with Internet of Things technology.

An array of 17 wireless sensors scattered throughout Bartram’s Garden, a 45-acre botanic garden on the banks of the Schuylkill River, will let groundskeepers have hard data on temperature, soil moisture and other key stats thanks to Comcast’s machineQ long-range Internet-of-Things technology.

As part of the yearly corporate responsibility push from the comms giant — branded as Comcast Cares Day — a team from Comcast’s machineQ deployed sensors in key spots around the Southwest Philly garden, including the area surrounding the Bartram Oak, a rare but naturally occurring hybrid of red and willow oak.

Comcast deployed close to 100,000 volunteers throughout the company for its volunteering effort. Aside from the platform, Comcast also brought some 200 volunteers to do more old-school volunteering, like cleaning up farm beds and sifting compost.

Bartram’s Director of Landscapes and Facilities Tom Reber said the new tech put in place will allow the garden to have a more targeted analysis of soil conditions, particularly around key plants like historic rose bushes and the Bartram Oak.

“This gives us a lot more information to restore those historic varieties,” Reber said. “Having this hard data gives you much better management tools for preservation.”

The majestic Bartram Oak. (Courtesy photo)

The majestic Bartram Oak. (Courtesy photo)

Alex Khorram, general manager at machineQ, said the LoRaWAN-powered platform from Comcast will allow Bartram’s to gather data on the soil around certain parts of the park and have access to it through a mobile device, sparing staff from manually checking on the conditions. (LoRaWAN is a low-bandwidth network that reaches long distances with little power. Here are a few other use cases by way of a machineQ hackathon held last year.)

Going forward, Khorram said he could see Bartram’s using more sensor technology to track its assets (like vehicles and equipment) throughout the 45-acre property.

“This project at Bartram’s serves as a microcosm of cities,” Khorram said. “There’s technology, sustainability and community in a great package. Tech is allowing a community garden improve quality of service: that’s exactly how we see smart-city projects.”

A version of this article originally appeared on Technical.ly Philly and was reported by Technical.ly Philly Reporter Roberto Torres.

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