Shaping Smarter Cities: Sensors-Key to Helping Vertical Farms Thrive

José Chavez is a senior pursing a Bachelor’s Degree in Electrical Engineering at the University of Texas at Arlington, with particular interests in cybersecurity and augmented reality, among others.

Shaping Smarter

Vertical farming has been on the rise these past few years thanks to technology advances that enable farmers to monitor and control environmental variables.

The trend toward vertical farming is in response to several challenges found in traditional farming, including the extensive acreage and water needed, chemicals used in pest control, costs of transporting food to population centers, and crop loss due to extreme weather, among other things. Vertical farms have the potential to generate more produce than traditional farming in smaller spaces, using trays of crops stacked on top of each other.

Vertical farming also reduces CO2 emissions by eliminating the need for vehicles to transport food over long distances, as the food grown by vertical farms would be supplied to local supermarkets and neighboring cities. Additionally, the technologies used in vertical farming allow for tightly controlled conditions that minimize growth time, maximize harvest yields, and maximize overall process efficiency.

Vertical farming is not typically done with soil-based systems. Instead, these alternative methods are used:
Hydroponics: Uses a solution of water mixed with nutrients that acts as soil for the plants to grow.
Aeroponics: Uses a medium such as cloth to grow plants by spraying the exposed roots with a mix of water and nutrients

Aquaponics: Uses a closed looped structure comprised of cultivating both fish and plants that support and benefit one another

Vertical farms rely on sensor data to establish and maintain ideal growing conditions. Sensors such as moisture sensors, pH sensors, and temperature sensors provide hundreds, if not thousands, of data points that help farmers improve the quality of crops, grow larger quantities of crops, and use resources efficiently. Analog Devices combines moisture, pH, and temperature sensors into one development tool-The EVAL-CN0398-ARDZ Evaluation Board:

The 3-wire soil moisture sensor determines soil moisture by measuring its dielectric constant, which enables precision in watering and eliminates waste
The pH sensor measure soil pH to determine which nutrients need to be added or adjusted to balance pH for optimal plant growth
The temperature sensor measures soil or solution temperature to maximize germination and growth
The Evaluation Board is a low power device featuring an Arduino shield form factor for rapid prototyping to allow engineers to test the growing conditions of plants within a small sample size. The chip select is configurable to be routed to three general purpose I/O pins of the board, allowing multiple boards using SPI communications protocol to be stacked up. The all-in-one sensor combination makes is an easy and efficient sensor solution.

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