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Pakistani University uses AI to boost yields

A team from the university’s Faculty of Engineering, Sciences, and Technology, integrated by Dr. Mansoor Ebrahim, Dr. Kamran Raza, and Dr. Hasan Adil, have formulated the ‘Smart Farming,’ a one-of-its-kind urban farming solution. The project’s primary goal is to create a test bed based on the hydroponics technique that integrates the so-called Internet of Things (IoT) and systems with artificial intelligence (AI) to create an effective, controlled, and autonomous environment for plant growth.

‘Smart Farming’ is a way of applying modern Web 5.0 technologies to agriculture. Hydroponics is one of the widely used methods, being a process of growing plants in soilless culture in nutrient-rich water. “Projects developed worldwide are either unable to focus on basic urban hydroponics farming infrastructure or too specific to focus on providing services of automation and monitoring. None of them has been a complete, scalable solution offering various hydroponics elements in one package,” Dr. Mansoor explained.

This project, in particular, aims to solve multifaceted agricultural issues, encompassing the physical and digital technologies to make it a sustainable and adaptable solution best suited for the needs of Pakistan. Alongside creating a fully managed and controlled hydroponic farming environment, the team also integrated an IoT interface dedicated to sensing Total Dissolve Solids (TDS), PH, and humidity levels as well as temperature, and takes automated, required action for the well-being of crops.

“All the sensors are used to maintain and control the inputs and outputs to automatically maintain the desired state of plants,” Dr. Mansoor commented on the project’s technological elements, “The data received from the IoT sensors is then processed and analyzed through an AI-based system, trained with existing images of plants and their development through different stages, as well as with real-time pictures of crop yield in test beds from the drone’s cameras scheduled to collect data at various intervals,” the expert added.

The overall system can be manually controlled and reset with a highly interactive and easy-to-navigate mobile-based application. Its innovative framework has many benefits, including up to 90% of water saving, the use of only 25% of fertilizers, and less use of space, in addition to significant cost reductions concerning transportation and carbon emissions. As a result, ‘Smart Farming’ has been recognized at the national level and received funding from the Higher Education Commission of Pakistan.

Favorable results in the first phase are already visible, with many vegetables successfully grown and initial targets achieved. “With consistent efforts and research, we have perfected the nutrient solution yielding good results,” said Dr. Mansoor, project lead. The initial crop output demonstrated that ‘Smart Farming’ is a viable and ecologically beneficial alternative. Furthermore, the procedure is entirely automated, reducing work time, cost, and cultivation area, making it ideal for urban areas.

“Perfecting the algorithm still requires feeding and analyzing thousands of data sets to train and develop the autonomous system in making accurate judgments and developing seamless communication to automate the overall farming process fully. Till then, the project will remain a synchronized effort of machines and humans,” Dr. Mansoor concluded. The project has the potential to be replicated on a mass scale, even sustaining and empowering the existing labor market associated with the agriculture industry.


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