By combining cloud-based solutions with hands-on experience, GEAR Lab researchers have developed affordable, solar-powered irrigation tools to democratize precision agriculture.
In modern agriculture, robots, drones, and automated sensors monitor fields and crop conditions, enhancing farm efficiency and profitability. Precision agriculture brings many benefits, but it’s high costs limit its accessibility to most global farmers.
Global Engineering and Research (GEAR) Lab researchers have developed various drip irrigation solutions. These include a low-pressure emitter that reduces pumping energy by over 50% compared to traditional emitters, a system optimization model factoring in local weather and crop arrangements that can reduce operation costs by up to 30%, and an affordable precision irrigation controller. This controller, designed to tailor operations to farmers’ unique circumstances and preferences, has demonstrated more than 40% water consumption reductions compared to conventional methods.
In developing these cost-effective technologies, the team harnessed invaluable insights from the farmers. Through “Farmer Field Days” and interviews, they engaged with over 200 farmers, suppliers, and industry experts in Kenya, Morocco, and Jordan, chosen as pilot test sites due to factors like solar availability, water scarcity, and their potential as ideal markets for technology adoption.
The controller processes weather data, such as humidity, temperature, wind speed, and rainfall. Using artificial intelligence, it estimates the day’s solar exposure and precise irrigation requirements, relaying this information to the farmer’s smartphone. The degree of automation employed is at the farmer’s discretion. In its inaugural season at a Moroccan test location, GEAR Lab’s technology cut water usage by 44% and energy by 38% compared to a nearby farm with conventional drip irrigation.
In Jordan, a solar-powered drip system at a full-scale test farm uses a controller prototype, receiving smartphone instructions on valve operations. In Morocco, a research farm equipped with a fully automated hydraulic system utilizes the controller, with researchers overseeing irrigation and performing other agronomic duties. In Kenya, a region with limited adoption of precision agriculture and smart irrigation, a basic version of the controller delivers educational content and scheduling controls.