Integrated Urban Gardening Automation System (CITYVEG)

26/08/2019

Summary

Nowadays, more than half of the world population lives in cities and up to 80% of the world’s population will live in cities by 2030. The urbanization process, in many cases, goes along with increasing urban poverty and polluted environment, growing food insecurity and malnutrition, and increasing unemployment. Therefore, the importance and urgency of urban agriculture growth (and urban horticulture in particular) is a significant strategy in order to improve wellbeing of city dwellers. The suggested technology CityVeg comes as a solution for this portion of urban population by providing a robust, permanent robotic platform that can be tailored for each urban garden parcel and can maintain vegetable production after seeding/planting until harvest, providing all input requirements in combination with a direct online Garden Management Information System in the form of a mobile App. CityVeg can compete worthily with the existing companies and others that plan to get in the urban agriculture market, as we will create an intelligent urban farming system based on automations for irrigation, fertilization and spraying for weeding, providing a sustainable and high-tech way to produce food for urban plots of any size. CityVeg is targeted at the global urban farming market. The business will operate under the umbrella of the selected SME to work together in this project. It is expected that the system will be producing vegetables over the entire year with different plant species to ensure the investment feasibility.

Technology Description

The case of CityVeg comes as a solution for this portion of urban population by providing a robust, permanent robotic platform that can be tailored for each urban garden parcel and can maintain vegetable production after seeding/planting until harvest, providing all input requirements in combination with a direct online Garden Management Information System in the form of a mobile App.

CityVeg’s main advantage and significant difference from competing technologies is that it is based ONLY on PRECISION water application providing services regarding irrigation (pure water), fertilization (foliar where water is sprayed on the crop in solution with specified nutrients or fertigation when combined with irrigation) and weeding (spraying water in solution with synthetic and/or biological Plant Protection Products (PPP) on the intra- and inter-raw weeds). These 3 pillars of any agricultural production system, when combined with the precision agriculture concept (minimum input application according to the crop needs for each growth stage) can assist an urban grower to achieve high quality and quantity production for his/her family nutrition and in some cases functional horticultural products due to exact nutrient or water application in specific growth stages.

Main advantages

Its main advantage is its cost (relatively lower than the competition) that could be even lower when commercialized and its robustness and simplicity in terms of hardware that will reduce maintenance costs. It also provides foliar fertilization that can optimize yield and quality in critical growth stages of the vegetables and weeding with limited amount of preferably bio-PPPs. Moreover, the proposed system will allow the customers to design their garden graphically using an app as well as controlling the various parameters through a game-like interface (emphasis on ease of use). Finally, it could be a teaching infrastructure for schools to provide combined knowledge to students on agronomy and ICT sciences.

Stage of development

A CityVeg prototype has not been constructed yet, but its main features (crop and weed detection + irrigation scheduling) have been already tested and gave more than adequate results. The software-based detection system in combination with necessary hardware (cameras) has functioned in laboratory basis. Regarding the irrigation scheduling algorithm and hardware, it has already being tested and evaluated through field experiments in commercial crops.

The opportunity of this proposal will assist the team to assembly a full scale CityVeg unit and cure all possible weaknesses identified in the process. This way, we can have a first trial of the system in real conditions of vegetable cultivation and optimise the algorithms within the CityVeg software.

Challenge and needs

CityVeg has a strong basis to become commercial, but there are some related risks that need to be addressed to succeed:

  1. Optimisation of crop and weed algorithms
  2. The irrigation scheduling algorithm needs to be able to calculate simultaneously multiple crop types and take into account the sensors that will be used in the system in order to provide accurate advice
  3. The electromechanical design needs to be realized in the most techno-economical manner

Intellectual property

A prior art search has been planned.

Potential markets and targets

Potential markets and targets

CityVeg is targeted at the global urban farming market. The business will operate under the umbrella of the selected SME to work together in this project. It is expected that the system will be producing vegetables over the entire year with different plant species and this ensures that the depreciation time of the investment will be less than 3 years based on an average family consumption. Depreciation time of this period (up to 5 years) is considered investment attractive.

The size of global urban farming market is huge, as it is estimated that about 25-30% of urban citizens worldwide are involved in the agro-food sector. Since people living in urban environment have reached 55% of the global population in 2018, which is 4.2 billion, the possible buyers of urban farming technology would be 577-693 million people. This market is expected to grow rapidly as the urban population increases continuously. However, the specific audience for CityVeg is mainly medium to high income professionals that seek high quality homemade fresh horticultural products, but do not have the time to take care appropriately of a family garden, which counts for less than 5% of the total urban farmers’ population. This means that the real potential customers would be 28.8 to 34.6 million people worldwide and CityVeg, after its full scale prototyping and validation, could start its market journey by targeting the European, US and Japanese markets to reach out to 3-5% of the total customer pool (between 0.8 and 1.7 million customers).

Potential partners

A potential partner for CityVeg would be a SME that would like to expand its business activities into mechanized automatic urban farming systems. The company should have a strong background in agronomy and specifically in precision agriculture and at the same time a solid knowledge of ICT, in both software and hardware. It would be also preferable that its personnel have experience on research activities and new product development, so that there is a link between the research centre and the company in the prospect of CityVeg’s evolution.

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