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Nerds Will Feed The World: This Singaporean Start-up Advocates Smart Urban Farming

Archisen is democratizing urban farming and food access using Internet-of-Things, automation, and data analytics

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BY Tricia V. Morente - 27 Mar 2017

PHOTO CREDIT: Getty Images

With the global population set to exceed the 10-billion mark by the year 2100, as projected by this United Nations report, growing enough food for future generations is going to be tricky.

It’s a challenge that will be felt worldwide, particularly in rising economies and urbanized cities where a growing band of health-conscious consumers demand better, safer, and more secure food production capacities, but where arable land available for cultivation is steadily thinning to give way to the rise of vertical residential and commercial developments.

For Singaporean AgTech start-up Archisen, the traditional centralized way of growing produce only in places where climate conditions and land values are favorable is no longer the sustainable way to go about satiating the growing world’s appetite.

Says Sven Yeo, Archisen co-founder, “Many farms operate as a stand-alone unit, run by a farm manager or agronomist who makes decisions based on their experience and judgment. The rate of improvement is hence limited by individual experiences and personal bias, rather than collective experiences and data-driven processes.”

Archisen advocates smart urban farming powered by disruptive technologies like Internet-of-Things (IoT), automation, and data analytics. It seeks to bring the farm closer to the table by shortening the supply chain, leading to fresher and more nutritious produce. And it does this by deploying different agricultural growing systems in indoor, open field and rooftop environments.

 

Revolutionizing the future of food

Archisen’s concept focuses on Networked Farming, “where each farm is equipped with sensors, networking capabilities and contributes data of the growing conditions and farm performance to the entire network,” says Yeo. “The strategy allows centralized management of a network of decentralized micro-farms through the aggregation of data as a shared resource and tapping on each other as networked intelligence,” he adds.

Archisen developed a smart urban farming system called Croptron, “which leverages on sensors located in your farm, connected over a network of IoT devices to transmit data to our cloud,” shares Yeo. This data, which is processed in real-time, determines issues that require user action and is also used for machine learning to develop “growth recipes.”

Growth recipes, explains Yeo, “is a collection of parameters such as temperature, relative humidity, light levels, CO2 levels, water pH, water electrical conductivity and so on, necessary for optimal plant growth. Our growth recipes are cloud-based and constantly updated based on performance data, and used to drive automation devices. This is what we call ‘dynamic automation’, as opposed to ‘static automation’ where the logic is provided by a person or preconfigured settings.”

In other words, you don’t need to be a farmer or agriculturist, or have an in-depth knowledge of agriculture, to be able to grow your own “micro-farm” in your backyard or condominium unit.

In fact, one successful user of Croptron ran a small-sized, 2,000 square-foot farm with only two persons. “They achieved commercial-scale production equivalent to a two-hectare plantation, with high success rates in their first try despite having limited prior knowledge in farming,” shares Yeo, adding that this demonstrates the ability of Archisen’s technology “to democratize farming, making it accessible and empowering new farmers to come aboard and join the movement.”

 

Thrilling times ahead

The days are getting busier for this AgTech start-up. “We noticed as we move along that high-tech urban farming is a very cross-disciplinary field, and a successful assimilation of different capabilities—ranging from agronomy, mechanical engineering, infocomm technology, cloud computing, data science, financial models, etc.—was critical in making it work. We’re constantly growing the team to build our expertise and be the best in the industry,” shares Yeo.

Even now with their team of only five members, which already counts Yeo and co-founder Vincent Wei, Archisen packs a mean punch. In late 2016, Archisen formed a joint venture called Frontier Agrotech with one of its early investors. “We’re focused on raising investment to build profitable, high-tech indoor urban farms for Singapore and Asia. We foresee more cool developments, partnerships with organizations and investors who are interested to invest in the future of food,” says Yeo.

Currently, the team is exploring such technologies and developments as “Image and Video Analytics for crop monitoring; robotics for automation of seeding, transplanting and harvesting; and epigenetics for superior crops and personalized nutrition” to potentially leverage for Archisen. “The future is looking really exciting,” shares Yeo. “Our work is gaining interest from accredited investors and we are in talks with several of them to raise additional capital for expanding our capabilities and continue the development of our technology, including these areas of interest,” he ends.