IoT students testing the moisture probe

CNM Students Help Design Innovative Soil Monitors that Will Aid Farmers Across the Globe

The students are part of the current Internet of Things (IoT) Bootcamp and are working in conjunction with IBM
December 01, 2020

Many small farmers, especially those in developing countries, don’t have access to the kinds of helpful technologies that larger farms in richer countries use to optimize their water use and increase their crop yields. But that could soon change thanks to a project being piloted by CNM students in conjunction with SmartCone and IBM.

Three Internet of Things (IoT) Bootcamp students—Christian Chavez, Saige Martinez, and Janel Sanchez—are currently working with IoT instructor Brian Rashap to develop hardware and software components for a smart, soil moisture monitoring system that can be easily, quickly, and affordably manufactured. That monitor can then be sent to farmers around the world so they can use it with an IBM-built smartphone app in order to make more informed decisions about when and how much to water. 

“The sensor is important for farmers because it can help them grow better crops, and it’s important for these students because they’re getting specifications from a client—IBM in this case— then developing an IoT device to meet those exact specifications, and that’s what we would expect of them in an IoT career, ” Brian says.

The larger development project that Brian and his students are participating in is called Liquid Prep and it came out of an IBM Call for Code internal challenge, where the company asks its employees to come up with innovation solutions to real-world problems. CNM became involved after IBM reached out to SmartCone Technologies Inc.—a company that CNM has partnered with before on other projects—and asked if SmartCone could help build the device. SmartCone then contacted Brian and he and his students got to work.

Currently in development, the IBM smartphone app—known as Clever Crop—will take soil moisture data from the CNM-designed IoT device, then match it with weather forecast data gathered by the IBM Cloud. That data pairing will allow the app to provide recommendations to farmers to help them determine how much watering they’ll need to do over the coming days to keep their crop healthy and growing at an optimal speed. The app is also designed to be as visual as possible, so that low-literate farmers, or those who are not familiar with farming nomenclature, can easily understand and follow the watering suggestions.

On the CNM side, the students already have a working prototype of the soil monitor. At the base of the device, they used a 3D printer to build a moisture probe housing, then inserted an off-the-shelf IoT moisture probe. Up top, students used a 3D printer to build housing for the off-the-shelf IoT hardware that reads and transfers the moisture data to a mobile phone, which receives the data and feeds it into the IBM app. The CNM students are also currently writing the code needed to get the data from the IoT devices and onto the phone via a USB cable.

“Eight weeks ago, none of these students knew how to code or use a 3D printer, so it’s impressive to see how fast they’re moving,” Brian says.

Brian says he and his students are grateful for the opportunity to work with global clients such as SmartCone and IBM and he hopes to involve students in future bootcamps as well. Everyone is excited about the potential impact for farmers and glad to show how basic IoT training can help people make a real difference.

“I think this project is a great example of how skills learned in an IoT bootcamp can help students develop projects that are not overly complicated but have a broad, important, and immediate impact,” Brian says.  

The next IoT Deep Dive Bootcamp starts February 15. Click here to learn more.