Personalising your greens using IoT

Personalising your greens using IoT

Micahel Setton, CEO of Invireo, blogs about the important role vertical farming and controlled environment agriculture will play as smart cities look towards more sustainable farming solutions. 

Growing food uses 70% of our fresh water and takes up 50% of our arable land, which conflicts with the ever-growing needs of cities for space. This is why futurists believe that urban farming will be an important piece of the smart cities sustainability puzzle. Vertical farming is not well suited for crops, such as cereal but it will definitely become very competitive for growing microgreens (for example, basil, dill, beets, stevia), medicinal plants, mushrooms and leisure crops.

The inspiration for the Invireo Quantum

Upon moving to the UK at the end of 2014 I read an interesting article in an October issue of Wired UK about Controlled Environment Agriculture (CEA). I learned that by using CEA it is possible to grow plants up to three times faster indoors than outdoors, saving 90% of the water normally required!

Being an engineer, I then tried to find out as much as I could about vertical farms and plant factories and was amazed to learn that in Asia, Japanese companies such as Fujitsu, Sharp and Toshiba are already converting cleanrooms, previously used for semiconductor manufacturing, to grow lettuce, spinach, herbs and strawberries on high tech racks. These racks offer consistent quality production that is almost entirely automated; with the Internet of Things platforms offering sensing, control, optimisation and plant handling.

Tuning plant properties with light

Light is vital for photosynthesis, but it is also necessary for directing plant growth and development. There are two light-sensing systems involved in plant growth: the blue light sensitive system (taking care of phototropism, stomata opening and the last step of chlorophyll synthesis) and the red light sensitive system, also known as the phytochrome system. The phytochrome system acts as a biological light switch and is important for such things as seed germination, stem elongation, size and the shape of leaves.

Quantum 1

Quantum Invireo initial rendering

Several studies have shown that by using LEDs it is possible to grow plants quite efficiently and use artificial light for ‘plant signalling’. Several controlled environment agriculture concepts were presented in the fall of 2015 as part of the ‘Future of Food’ theme at the Word Expo in Milan including MEG, who showed their indoor smart greenhouse, which tunes LED lights to achieve optimal plant growth.

By varying the exposure to red and blue light researchers have determined that it is possible to tailor the properties of plants such as aroma, taste, amount of antioxidants, minerals and vitamin content.

In August 2015, Philips Lighting opened a new facility aimed at designing new light recipes for city farming. This facility is for professional growers to achieve faster growth, optimised plant shapes and yields of leafy vegetables, herbs and strawberries.

Bringing urban agriculture to the consumer realm

In 2015 the only CEA systems available to consumers were very expensive and much too big to fit in typical living spaces. I decided it was time to design a new appliance that enables anybody, anywhere to grow plants independently of natural factors and optimise the growth parameters for each plant in order to reach the desired properties in terms of taste, morphology, nutrition, growth rate etc.

At the same time, I met a brilliant industrial designer, Fabio Salvador from Makers Department, who came up with several design proposals and by the end of 2015 the Invireo Quantum was born (Vireo means: ‘I am verdant, green; I sprout new green growth. I flourish; I am lively, vigorous).

Quantum2

Our first prototype in March 2016

To provide consistent quality and personalisation, the Invireo Quantum is connected to the Cloud via Wi-Fi. Quantum growers will be able to automatically load growth recipes by setting the lighting ratio and intensities at each growth stage so the harvest matches their preference for taste, nutrition or yield for each plant species or plant mix.

Shanghai basil, Sydney mustard, New York cilantro, Stockholm Mediterranean mix, London peppermint…we will create a networked community of best recipes. What do you think big data and artificial intelligence will do for smart indoor urban farming in 2020?

You can follow Michael Setton, CEO of Invireo, on Twitter @sensarisrocks. Don’t forget to follow IoTUK too @IoTUKNews.

Michael Setton
christiana.courtright52@cde.catapult.org.uk
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