Miniaturized monitoring sensor systems for plants and agriculture
PLANtAR aims to develop cost-efficient, miniaturized, networked, biodegradable monitoring electronics to help tackle one of the world’s biggest challenges: producing enough food over 9 billion people while also protecting the environment.
Since the start of the 20th century, technologies such as improved plant breeding, fertilizers and plant protection products (pesticides, herbicides and fungicides) have enabled farming to keep pace with constantly rising demand for food. However, intensive agricultural practices, just barely optimized for high-yield production, are unsustainable. Not only are they damaging to the environment, but they also require large quantities of clean water for irrigation – water that may no longer be available due to climate change. Yet with the global population set to grow from 8 billion in 2025 to 9.6 billion in 2050, the UN Food & Agriculture Organization (FAO) calculates that food production needs to increase by 70% in this period . Solving the dilemma between high-yield intensive agriculture and protecting the environment calls for cross- industry approaches, and digitalization has a key role to play.
New kinds of electronic sensors, actuators, networks and other digital technologies can increase efficiency and improve environmental sustainability in many agricultural applications. Whether in fields, in greenhouses or in the new domains of indoor and urban farming (which now accounts for 20% of global food production), digital technologies have the potential to enable holistic monitoring of production and growing conditions. Sensors can provide timely warnings of plant stress and / or diseases. By measuring factors such as soil moisture, EC and content of nitrogen, ammonia, surface temperature, solar radiation, CO2 and detecting pests and plant pathogens, digital technologies can help significantly increase yields per cultivated area. And at the same time, they can assist in reducing water, energy, fertilizer and pesticide use.
Although some of such sensors and sensor networks already exist, on the one hand, many are too expensive for large-scale use. On the other hand, more cost-effective sensors and measuring systems lack sufficient accuracy for professional applications. Moreover, since they can pollute the soil if left in place, existing sensor systems generate added costs and effort for producers because they have to be removed from the soil after use.
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