Urban Farming IoT System for Plant Growth

An autonomous smart IoT plant growing system Fito Slim for urban farming. The product designed around a “plant and forget” philosophy, outperforming conventional soil and hydroponic solutions. The product allows users to manage the indoor plantation via a mobile application.

Industry:

Internet of Things (IoT)

Agritech & Smart farming

TRL:

1 → 5

Project duration:

7 months

Challenge

With many households living in urban areas and high ORGANIC food prices, there is an unmet demand for simple home farming. Some urban citizens can afford to dedicate long hours to amateur agriculture projects. Others want to crop fresh vegetables and greens at arm’s length, without spending any time fertilizing, weeding, or monitoring the plants. 

Home farming nowadays is not much different from traditional cultivation technologies that have existed for centuries. The home agriculture sector’s innovation is rather incremental and revolves around neat ‘garden’ tools and effort demanding DIY automation products based on Arduino and Raspberry Pi. 

Many smart farming and agritech startups have made unsuccessful attempts to address the existing gap in the B2C sector and thus pivoted to provide advanced automation B2B solutions. Some home farming startups and companies learned the hard way of navigating through a great variety of cultivated crops and thus drifted to the rapidly evolving cannabis market. 

In this case, a B2B agritech company identified customer needs and engaged EnCata to help them build a new B2C product to allow them to conquer new international markets and diversify their business.

This project’s challenge was developing a hardware + software B2C product with a straightforward “plant and forget” principle as a cornerstone. Minimal space was also an essential constraint.

Our Role

  • Feasibility Study (business, technology, engineering)
  • Conceptual design
  • Industrial design
  • Custom PCB electronics development
  • Firmware (embedded software) development
  • Mechanical and CAD design
  • Prototype manufacturing
  • Prototype tests

Technologies Used

Custom PCBA with ARM STM32

Custom PCBA with ARM STM32

UART microchip

UART microchip

CO2 sensor

CO2 sensor

Grow light LED

Grow light LED

Peristaltic pump

Peristaltic pump

CNC laser cutting

CNC laser cutting

CNC  metal bending

CNC metal bending

Steel welding

Steel welding

CMOS camera

CMOS camera

Carbon air purification filter

Carbon air purification filter

pH and conductivity TDS sensor

pH and conductivity TDS sensor

EnCata offers comprehensive hardware and IoT product development services at a fraction of the cost

For Enterprises

R&D + design + manufacturing under ONE roof
Scale up and down your team
Intergrated hardware + software development
New technologies and research 

CORPORATIONS click HERE for more info

For Startups

MVP and POC prototypes
Affordable consultancy rates
All IP is yours
In-house batch production

STARTUPS click HERE for more info

Approach & Solution

We started with the product’s basic idea: “plant and forget,” which required us to initially run a feasibility study (business, technology, and engineering). A range of technologies for plant medium culture was considered (Aeroponic, Wick, Water Culture, Ebb and Flow (Flood & Drain), Drip (recovery or non-recovery), N.F.T.

In developing the product concept we narrowed to two hydroponic irrigation technologies:

Choosing these two technologies in the concept development required possessed challenge to minimize/optimize the overall complexity of automation and IoT functionality. On top, much effort was put into developing intuitive UX design, interfaces, and creating the design that allows easy maintenance. Product maintenance is extremely important for consumers, who do not want the confusion of monitoring various nutrient and fertilizer solutions (a common problem found in aquaponics and hydroponics solutions).

Analyzing the market for crop varieties, we learned that "environmentally friendly” grown crops add 80% price markup, while the ORGANIC market volume is still 10 times smaller than ‘industrially’ grown fresh salads, berries, and vegetables.

The electrical components design required low energy consumption - a potential deal-breaker for some customers focused on their bills.  Various module prototypes, such as control systems and trays for plant growing, were designed and tested as part of the engineering development.

trays for plant

As such, the control module comprises a custom-designed PCB that gathers data from various modules and IoT sensors:

The IoT functionality allowed a direct feedback loop and created a homeostatic regulatory system/mechanism within the plant growing module. Fresh air is provided to the ‘box’ by a fan, while the air outlet has a carbon air filter removing potentially unpleasant odors produced by the host plants.

The PCB incorporates a Wi-Fi module for internet connection and firmware updates and a BLE (Bluetooth Low Energy) to connect to a mobile app.  A separate custom controller was designed to manage the LED lights, their spectrum, and their intensity. 

Having completed the engineering validation and “plant growth” tests, EnCata developed a modern industrial design and module arrangement around the developed sub-systems. Overall, the design represents a rectangular “box” with a glass door, incorporating a fertilizing/nutrient solution module, electronics, smart LEDs, and an irrigation system comprised of a series of pumps and dispensers. These modules feed an array of small trays hosting individual plants and enabling their growth.

In 2019, the market for home farming equipment totaled USD 2 billion. The United States accounted for 55% of the global market, followed by Germany, England, and Italy’s combined 16% market share. 
The 8-year CAGR market growth was 450%.

Drone Station case
Drone Station box
Autonomous Drone Station Box

Results

We designed, engineered, and manufactured a prototype for the home farming market relying on N.F.T. and flood and drain hydroponics technologies. The development reached as far as TRL-5 and passed engineering validation tests, which allowed the client to move into design validation, refinements, and alpha-tests (aka DVT). 

Work with EnCata allowed our customer to concentrate on core agriculture technology development and the developed prototype became a bench for testing the crucial software and AI/ML algorithms. Importantly, EnCata provided the company with essential hardware engineering, IoT and consumer product development expertise, which allowed the client to focus their precious time on their core activities.

3 patents

were claimed as a result of EnCata’s work

2 models

for startup’s business were suggested to utilize around the new hardware/IoT product

37% crop

yield gains achieved in the new product vs standard ‘industrial’ farming technologies

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