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The United Nations Climate Conference (COP26) in Glasgow is being held in the year that the European Union is demonstrably committed to making the continent more sustainable. During the climate summit, Innovation Origins will be zooming in on Italy. This country receives about 20 percent of the money from the Next Generation EU fund that links recovery from the cororona pandemic to sustainability.

In this part of the series, we are focusing on a promising Italian start-up.

To improve farming, a smart system enables the measurement of parameters to help monitor a plants’ condition. Diseases can be detected in time this way and irrigation can be optimized too.

Being a farmer means getting up early in the morning all year long. Missing one day might result in detecting a plant disease too late. Skipping plants’ watering could be harmful when fruit is growing. Showing up every day is therefore necessary to keep track of what is going on. In the era of smart systems, what about having remote control over farms too? Also, climate change is making us think about smarter management of water and of less extensive use of chemicals. This is an Italian start-up that kills two birds with one stone, offering a system that optimizes resources and makes agriculture smarter.

Smartisland has developed Smart Farm, a technology to monitor cultivations remotely. The Sicilian start-up gathers data on the environment and on the soil the plants are growing in. This way, farmers can track the status of their crops, and thereby plan more efficient irrigation and fertilization while predicting plant diseases at the same time.  

Maria Luisa Cinquerrui founded the company back in 2014 after graduating as a computer engineer. Since then, Smartisland ha grown in its development process and has also received several awards. As of today, it employs 12 people – both on a part and full-time basis.  

“My family owns a farm and during my time at university, I came up with the idea of developing a technology that could improve agriculture”, says Cinquerrui. “Smartisland was my graduation project which I decided to develop even further after my studies.” 

Combining IT knowledge with experience in the field, the engineer created a system that gathers first-hand data and analyzes it. Users access the information through their laptops, and gain full control over what is going on in their farming.  

What’s more, is that Smartisland can also assist farmers in the performance of certain tasks. Irrigation, for instance, can be optimized with the data collected by Smart Farm. Growers can improve their production processes this way. 

Watering cultivations at a distance  

Smartisland created an ecosystem that integrates different devices to be able to gather, process, and apply data.  

Daiki – the name of the sensors nodes placed in the crop robots measure temperature and humidity levels, both in the air and in the soil. Sensors measuring wind and rainfall can also be integrated. The multispectral cameras embedded into the sensor nodes record visual information, which offers a new method to look at crops.  

All the information is transmitted to the data hub, where the system manages all of it. The unit carries out an analysis that is capable of distinguishing between different kinds of information, and sets different priorities when it comes to the crops. Users access an interface where they can find all that information.  

After data collection and analysis, the system helps program irrigation and fertilization operations. Smartisland’s technology also includes fertirrigators that – according to Daiki nodes’ sensors measurements – can water or fertilize plants in the way that they need it. 

Controllers make possible the communication between sensors and fertirrigators. They work as a bridge, taking care of the automation of both the watering and fertilizing processes on the basis of the collected information.  

“Daiki can detect the passing of different seasons. It is able to learn by itself, which means it can adapt to the way the weather changes. It is a smart robot that is able to predict what is going to happen next”, Cinquerrui adds.  

Modularity enables the system to suit different kinds of crops, as well as to satisfy the needs that every grower may have. Smartisland can tailor its product depending on the type of analyses that farmers want to conduct.  

Less water, more fruit

Knowing with more accuracy what is going in both the plant and the soil boosts the optimization of water and fertilizers. 

“Our technology allowed us to use over 60 percent less water in kiwi farms. Farmers used to water each tree with 90 liters per day, while nowadays they only use about 30. Considering that in every hectare there are 1.200 trees, they can now save 36,000 liters per day in each hectare”, Cinquerrui notes.   

According to Smartisland’s CEO, precision irrigation also improves the way plants grow, which increases the quantity levels of the product. Additionally, the use of hydric resources is restricted, avoiding waste that does not lead to a growth in production.

The same happens with fertilizers, whose usage can be dosed better. “Based on the data Daiki collects on the soil, farmers know how much fertilizer they need to use. And they also know when to use it”, Cinquerrui explains.  

Since the robot can detect the salinity value of soil, the system uses data to help in planning when to carry out fertilization. As a result, the usage of fertilizers can be optimized accordingly. In addition to the money farmers can save, a more rational approach in the use of fertilizers is a considerable benefit for the planet too.

Reduction of management costs is another aspect Smartisland’s system addresses.  “By using Daiki, farmers don’t need to go and water crops anymore, or they don’t need to ask one of their workers to do that. They can control irrigation remotely”, explains Cinquerrui.  

However, an accurate estimate of the savings is not available yet. That’s why the Sicilian team is working on an algorithm to fully assess this. Having solid numbers on the saved amount of resources due to the Smart Farm can help boost the sales of the system.   

Smarter robot, better farmer 

As of today, about 300 Daiki robots have been installed across the whole country. In all the 20 Italian regions, there is at least one Smartisland robot tracking the status of crops. Therefore, the product is being used in different crops and conditions, which provides the developers with even more information to work with.  

In continuing to perfect the system, the Sicilian team is working on the integration of more sensors in the robots, as well as to more services to offer to farmers. As with every bustling start-up, the development is never really over, as Cinquerrui stresses.

“Something we are working on is the assessment of the actual quality of the products that are grown with our system. But we’ll also keep studying and researching the needs that farmers have in order to help them improve their products.” 

Read also how Italy Italy plans to make maximum use of EU funds this time