Prejith P Pillai is the Founder and CEO of Xploro Technologies Inc. A software development company he founded in 2007 and now serves globally for various prestigious customers. He is an information technology architect and started his career as a software engineer in his own firm. He has 15+ experience in designing the architecture for any complex application out there. Known for his breakthrough technological ideas, also an inspiration for young entrepreneurs and has been guest speaker on entrepreneurship in various institutions like NIIT University, GL Bajaj Institute of Management etc.
Data Science and Farming? What is the relation between them? It is the first reaction when someone hears about this combination. Well, there is a big role of Data in every aspect of our day-to-day life. Let’s first talk about Vertical Farming. Considering the population going up around the globe it is hard to feed them all as per current agriculture method. Vertical farming is an indoor technique to grow plants for agriculture. It uses LEDs instead of sunlight. This type of farming can be done right in the urban area or city which actually decreases the need of transportation and supply chain cost. It saves the water as the irrigation is a closed-circuit technique, it will only use water which actually plants need and rest is recycled again for the future of the same farm. We may be having water scarcity in the coming decades and vertical farming will give a good help in this area.
Various terrains where farming is not possible due to climatic conditions like desert or snow areas or even rocky places. This kind of facility will be a blessing for them to produce their food without depending on others. Irrespective of climate you can grow any product anywhere. The best part is you don’t need any pesticide as it is indoor, now I don’t need to mention how awesome it is if you are getting pesticide free organic vegetables or fruits. Anyhow few limitations are there like the cost of electricity, led lights, are few other things, on which experts are working on to keep it economical. Presently, leafy vegetables, few fruits like strawberries, maples and salad-oriented vegetables are more in trend of this kind of farming. It is not an alternate solution for the regular farming obviously as we have limitations for the vertical farming. But the technique is evolving day by day and we can expect magical things in future.
Now talking about the role of data science in Vertical Farming is huge. When we talk about the three pillars, Engineering – The way you recreate or engineer the environment desirable for the planted crops, The Plant Science and The Data Science. Enormous amount of data we are getting from vertical farming is like environmental data from various sensors, images of plants from cameras in different stages to analyze the quality of the crop. The water specific data we provide to the plants like PH level etc. The manual data people acquire in the process of farming. The data we get is heterogeneous, tabular data, images, videos and more. Computer vision is one aspect of image data. Let’s say a computer is monitoring a plant in various stages used by technique “x” of farming and comparing it with technique “y” will give you a clear comparison of the quality output. Making these studies as a repository will give you a dictionary for quality analysis of the production output. To do this deep learning of data, creative houses are now developing a bunch of algorithms and they are really improving it day by day by the experience they are gaining. The vision study is using RGB cameras and also hyperspectral cameras which are far beyond the human eyes and can even check the chlorophyll in the plants. This helps in the study of ageing of plants, stress of the plants etc.
The environmental data can help create various case studies over the plants by maintaining different measurements of water temperature, humidity level, light exposure, mineral quantity etc. This can be helpful in the future to choose the correct method to get better production in various environments. These are kind of prediction reports which will be a treasure for our future farming. Some of the things used in the vertical farming to gather this data are IoT Sensors, cloud-based storage of this data, cameras (RGB/depth/multispectral/hyperspectral). Various software apps are developed to connect with the hardware to populate and structure the data coming from the same. Dashboards and reports made in several technologies to provide the data in a representative format for better analysis. If we talk about cloud storage the services like Google Cloud, AWS, Azure are the best reliable and suitable mechanism to help with SQL databases for the storage options. Python is widely used for the data processing and presentation layers that can be built in languages like React, .NET, PHP, etc.
So, I think we need more startups and creative minds to contribute more towards agriculture using technology and data science. They can start from anywhere, let say develop a versatile presentation platform to showcase the data in various graphics-oriented ways. Focus on the possibilities of hardware we can indulge in vertical farming and create a prototype for research and development. An awesome middleware which can connect with various points of data connection and can process the chunks of them into meaningful format to make it ready to consume for existing presentation layers.