Friday, January 16, 2015

Smart Farming Taking Shape

January 16, 2015 As part of coverage for our maker magazine, BIT and our social project, Progress Thailand, we've gone on several trips in Bangkok and well beyond it to study the different parts needed to build the perfect smart farm. First we learned about soil testing with Dr. Prateep Verapattananirund to hone in on the precise amount of nutrients crops need to be healthy while being sure not to over fertilize them, saving money in the process.

Then we went to Mahidol University to learn about agricultural drones with Dr. Teerakiat Kerdchaoen.  We would learn about how open source hardware and software is helping researchers with limited budgets keep pace with emerging technologies and their application out in the field.

And now, we've just returned from the remote sub-district of Pa Deng, Phetchaburi where we learned about designing, building, and maintaining an entirely independent power grid using solar power and biogas. The entire team comprised of volunteers, many of whom fit the description of DIY'ers, or makers. With little to no government backing, the project was basically a large-scale DIY power grid.

Soil testing, autonomous agricultural monitoring and maintenance, and on-site power production when put together begins to add up to the ideal "smart farm." Combined with our own efforts, using 3D printing to fabricate custom automated systems for our own urban agricultural project we are trying to think about the next couple of steps.

First we are going to try to learn about the state of open courseware (OCW) in Thailand. This would create an online resource for educators and students alike to watch lectures and tutorials for free about a wide range of topics, a virtual teacher anywhere you have an Internet connection. This will help spread the ideas and projects we've been studying to others who may not have the opportunity to travel and see them firsthand.

Next, having purchased a solar kit as part of the Pa Deng's fundraising efforts, we plan on building our own agriculture-centric stand-alone project. We're not sure if it will be a water condenser, an automated mini-irrigation system, or perhaps be used to power an existing part of our aquaponics system. All we are sure of is the need to demonstrate the use of independent alternative energy as one of the key components of the smart farm.

We'd also like to use an Arduino as part of this project and learn what has already been done, and if possible, develop an Arduino board specifically suited for both solar and biogas energy monitoring and automation.

We also plan on exploring the open source coding community in Bangkok. There is a need for software to make many of the systems being developed more accessible to users, and the open source community is passionate about developing tools that can make a difference.

Finally, we will attempt to stay in contact with all the interesting, knowledgeable, and passionate people we've met and see how their efforts can be combined or used to compliment one another, all of this within the much greater context of continuing the growth of Thailand's maker community.

We've learned a lot and we plan on learning a lot more. Hopefully those following our projects are learning something too but most importantly, are inspired to work on their own projects.

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