Giving plants a voice

Left to right: Daniel Hacikyan, EarthOne; Sidhanth Pereira, EarthOne; Sherif Abdou, AMIC; Edward Garcia-Torres, AMIC

Research has shown that it’s beneficial to talk to plants but wouldn’t it be nice if the plants could talk back?

Leveraging support from the Southern Ontario Network for Advanced Manufacturing Innovation (SONAMI), EarthOne Inc. collaborated with Mohawk College’s Additive Manufacturing Innovation Centre (AMIC) applied researchers to give plants a “voice.” The Hamilton-based startup, established in 2019 by two Mohawk College graduates, developed a plant monitor that gives plants the ability to tell us if they need additional moisture or light, and when they are ready to be harvested.

SONAMI is a Niagara College-led network of post-secondary institutions, who, through their respective Research and Innovation Centres, collaborate with small- and medium-sized companies to tackle their manufacturing-related challenges. The organization provides innovative solutions, such as process optimization, designing and testing prototypes, evaluating new technologies, and developing and commercializing new or improved products. SONAMI leverages faculty, students, and state-of-the-market equipment, together with funding from the Federal Economic Development Agency for Southern Ontario (FedDev Ontario), to support manufacturing in Canada.

The applied research project sought to design and prototype the plant monitor, their next-generation product. The smart device targets home and hobby gardeners, known as “prosumers,” who want lab quality measurements and have consumer-level experience.

With EarthOne’s plant monitor, users will be able to capture accurate and detailed measurements of soil pH, temperature, relative humidity levels, soil moisture, and light intensity. Using the GDD measurement that monitors the rate of transpiration or water loss in a plant, users can forecast harvest dates for produce and even some strains of cannabis.

The plant monitor will be the first plant monitor available on the consumer market that is modular, with the ability for consumers to add new monitoring capabilities to connect with grow lights and automatic watering systems.

Part of the company’s mission is to make technology serve the environment, rather than the other way around, says EarthOne CEO and co-founder Sid Pereira.

“After our first version of the plant monitor sold out, it was important for us to design our next version so that it would exceed our customer’s expectations and include even more features to optimize yield and foliage,” says Pereira. “That’s why we turned to Mohawk to help us select and build the right sensor package and active components for our requirements.”

As EarthOne prepares for a larger production run, Mohawk’s applied research support will be key to helping the company upgrade its product design and anticipate any production hurdles. In its second iteration, the fully wireless device will feature a battery charge that will last up to six months and will have added durability to avoid corroding with regular exposure to soil, water, and sun.

“This applied research project will help EarthOne commercialize and bring a new Canadian agri-tech product to market,” says Sherif Abdou, General Manager of Business Development in IDEAWORKS, Mohawk College’s applied research division that includes AMIC.  “We’re pleased that Mohawk’s technical expertise in advanced manufacturing – from designing a durable case using 3D printing to sensor development to the electrical architecture of a custom printed circuit board – will help accelerate the company’s progress towards this goal.”

The prototype was built by an applied researcher, Edward Garcia-Torres, and Mohawk students, Brooklyn Huybens in the Mechanical Engineering Technology program and Tristin Suriano in the Computer Engineering Technology program at Mohawk College.

The collaboration between AMIC and EarthOne was highly successful, moving the startup further along its business development goals.

“One of our biggest achievements to come out of the engagement with Mohawk is selling out our first batch of BETA units in one weekend,” said Pereira, founder and CEO of EarthOne.

This success story was based on the article “Giving plants a voice,” published on Mohawk’s News Desk on May 31, 2022.

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