28 February 2013

Nigeria: Fasmicro Provides Farm Intelligence, Quantifies Air Pollutants Via Phones

To make Nigeria food secure in compliance with Goal 1 of the Millennium Development Goals (Eradicate extreme poverty and hunger), there is need for improved crop yield and capacity-building amongst farmers. To this end, First Atlantic Semiconductors & Microelectronics (FASMicro), an Owerri-based electronics company has come up with some technological solutions to make farmers more productive and ensure food security in Nigeria.

In this chat with Vanguard Learning, founder of FASMicro, Dr. Ndubuisi Ekekwe, a graduate of Federal University of Technology Owerri, currently a professor of engineering in Carnegie Mellon University, USA, and Engr. Ekele Eke, the company's Engineering Manager, say they want to 'take the guesswork out of farming by providing data and intelligence that will make farmers see themselves as business people, empower cities, citizens and help leaders know the amount of air pollutants by simply texting a phone number,' adding that until Nigeria develops hardware capability, it will not utilise the full opportunities that ICT offers. Excerpts:

FarmMeter and EnviroMeter:

According to Ekekwe, the core of the technology is the FA1050X, a board that powers two applications, FarmMeter and EnviroMeter. He invented the FA1050X as a PhD student in Johns Hopkins University, USA. "It incorporates intelligent control engines that guarantee reliability under extreme conditions, and remote sensing and is protected partly, by US Patent No US20080247735. Light weight, GSM interface, and easy operation make FA1050X ideal data-acquisition system for gas, temperature, humidity, light, and wind."

Explaining further, Ekekwe said the FarmMeter takes the guesswork out of farming. "With this technology, a farmer is provided data about the soil and farm conditions right on his or her cell phone. What we did was build special sensors that measure humidity, nitrogen, potassium, etc., in the soil as well as wind speed and direction, and link them up with electronics.

"When installed, provided there is a GSM network in the area, the farmer can query it and get all the data he needs via cell phones. A farmer could wake up in the morning and quickly check via his phone if it rained last night in a farm many miles away. He does not have to take the long walk to the farm to verify things. Also, individual farmers may not have to spend on this technology; a group of farmers like co-operatives can use one as it provides data over a good geographic spread," he said.

On the EnviroMeter, the researcher said; "The EnviroMeter is to make sure that our political leaders are discussing global warming with data. Today, no one knows how much of the air is polluted in our cities. When the EnviroMeter is mounted in a city, anyone can text a number and right on the phone will get the amount of carbon dioxide (CO2) in that place. Using that data, we develop pollution map and pertinent reports. Imagine what will happen in this country if the policy-makers have hard data on the level of pollution in the Niger-Delta. Today, no one knows and we plan to change that."

Also speaking, FASMicro's Engineering Manager, Ekele Eke, said EnviroMeter and FarmMeter have GSM module interface which enables communication with simple phone. Just send SMS to a number and within seconds, you get the data. If you want historical data, a link will be provided where you can download it. We guarantee data reliability from this technology by more than 99.99%. It is simple mathematical modeling. There are people that want to work with office products like Excel; our technology ensures you can export them."

The Design

"FA1050X detects and captures any type of gas. For example, it has the capacity to capture and provide real time amount of CO2 in a city. For energy companies or city governments interested in estimating the amount of CO2 in the air, our technology is developed for such a need. We help you collect CO2 over a period of time, using our distributed CO2 -sensors, across your villages or cities. We will help you analyze the data and quantify impacts on human health. With these results, policymakers can make decisions and appropriate steps taken.

"A set of collector stations installed in a town will be used to capture the data, which will periodically be sent to a central server for inclusion in the database. The collected data are locally saved for fault tolerance purposes. If the network connection is not available, then saved data can be read from the collector stations by an operator. In case of a network failure, the collector stations will be read once a day, which means that they should be able to store the data locally at least for 24 hours. Also for sake of fault tolerance, data will be read once a day to provide comparison between transmitted data and lift possible transmission errors," said Eke.

Said the researchers, "FA1050X consists of three main modules - Gas sensor module which produces an analog output signal, GSM modem, the Zigbee Network which provides the possibility to build mesh networks in a given area and USART to USB communication to send data by using a USB cable between computing module and the main station. This is only used for maintenance, or in regions where no GSM network is available, as in far away farms."

They noted that these technologies will change the face of agriculture in the country. "Across this country, many farmers are working with no intelligence, living in the illusion that what worked in 1960 is still possible today."

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