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Indoor hydroponic garden set up at Fraunhofer Portugal

Fraunhofer AICOS has set up an indoor hydroponic garden on its premises in order to allow the development of tests regarding the Assistive Environment for Hydroponic Farming (AE4HF), one of its project which is being developed under the Information and Communication Technologies for Development (ICT4D) Competence Center. Since hydroponic farming is a fairly new concept, Fraunhofer AICOS carried out a Workshop to provide knowledge on hydroponic farming to the research team.

The indoor hydroponic garden will be used for research purposes aimed at continuous improvement of the AE4HF solution. The goals of the Workshop was to provide training on the use of devices and processes of measuring the key parameters for success in hydroponics and on how to maintain the conditions at optimum levels that are ideal for plant growth.

The Workshop consisted of two activities. The first one, more theoretical, aimed to outline the concept and the critical success factors of hydroponic farming. It was led by Armando Costa, a consultant and retailer in hydroponic equipment and chemicals. During the second activity, all the participants were involved in the installation of an office hydroponic garden in which tomatoes and strawberries were planted.

The objectives of the Workshop were remarkably achieved. Participants with different backgrounds (software developers, graphic designers and hardware developers) attended the session and enriched their knowledge on hydroponics.

Focused on the South African farmers, the primary goal of the Assistive Environment for Hydroponic Farming is to create a low cost mechanism for mobile monitoring of hydroponic environment. It comprises of an Android application communicating with high-tech low cost sensors. When the farmer is in the farm, she or he can walk in the greenhouse and collect farm parameter readings using a smartphone through Bluetooth connection to the sensors. Secondly, the farmer can use the personal computer or smartphone to monitor the farm environment while at home or in the office. Lastly the hydroponic systems allows the farmer to receive SMS based alerts and app notifications through the smartphone while they are away from the farm.

It is envisioned that the AE4HF will contribute socio-economic benefits to the farmers by improving farm management through real time monitoring and controlling of the environmental farm parameters and providing intelligent recommendations for optimizing yields.

The Assistive Environment for Hydroponic Farming is being developed under the ICT4D Competence Center scope in partnership with the School of Information and Communication Technology at Nelson Mandela Metropolitan University in South Africa.