How IoT and machine learning are automating agriculture

A new generation of farmers is turning to technologies such as the internet of things (IoT) and machine learning to automate agricultural production, alleviating the need to toil on the land while keeping a watchful eye on their crops.

Joining their ranks is Phoebe Xie, director and co-founder of Singapore-based agrotechnology startup AbyFarm. Teaming up with technology service provider SPTel, Xie is building a smart hydroponics farm in a greenhouse that uses a plethora of IoT sensors, including video cameras, to keep the farm humming around the clock.

“To run a self-regulating farm at the optimal temperature with optimal water and nutrient supply, and to control the quality and taste of vegetables and fruits, we need IoT sensors,” she said, adding that the farm and its sensors collect and monitor thousands of data points, including humidity and temperature.

With the data and in certain environmental conditions, processes and actions are automatically triggered to protect crops from the elements. For instance, if the temperature or humidity gets too high, fans, water curtains and roof shades are activated in the greenhouse.

Xie said the smart farm, located at a rooftop carpark in Singapore, is also equipped with sensors that monitor the pH and electrical conductivity levels of water. Among the sensors, which are connected to a Lora low-power wide area network, is a dozer that automatically releases acidic or alkaline nutrients to maintain optimal pH levels. 

Like any machine learning system, AbyFarm’s algorithms get smarter over time. Each time a crop is affected by disease, data about the occurrence and corrective action is fed into the system, enabling its algorithms to formulate solutions for other farmers with similar crop issues – without consulting an agronomist.

AbyFarm’s automated farming system, which is hosted on SPTel’s private cloud, can also advise farmers on the best time to transplant their crops after germination and harvest them later for sale, said Xie.

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