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2021-06-14
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IoT aeroponics solution enables efficient farming in little space

Highlights

● Up to 20,000 servings of vegetables provided daily to Taoyuan schools for students to have healthy lunches
● Knowledge and expertise shared with students at National Central University
● Collaboration with like-minded organizations to create greener cities

There is a farm in Taoyuan, Taiwan, that is definitely worth a visit, although you just might miss it if you do not know what you are looking for. Unlike most traditional farms, this one does not take up much space — or even require dirt. Airtree Smartfarm is a demonstration facility established by AirTree Inc., a Taiwanese start-up that has developed an Internet of Things (IoT) solution for aeroponics — cultivating crops without using soil or an aggregate medium. The farm is housed in a container, where plants are grown vertically on walls to save on space.

While you might expect to see soil or water within the walls’ chambers, there are none — just nozzles and pipes. The key to AirTree’s unique approach to aeroponics is its IoT solution to control the nozzles and pipes. The system knows the water and temperature requirements of more than 100 types of plants, and can alter the environment to meet them.

When it comes to agriculture, the critical element to successful plant growth is the roots, regardless of whether they are underground, submerged in water or, in this case, encased in the chambers. AirTree’s IoT approach ensures that nutrients are distributed evenly, resulting in faster and better plant growth. Whether it’s a hectare of land, a container or even just one wall, AirTree makes it so plants can grow just about anywhere.

A smart, safe and sustainable solution for food production

Rene Shen is a humble entrepreneur who founded AirTree, drawing inspiration from NASA’s experiments in space agriculture in the 1970s. A researcher specializing in soilless cultivation and trained at the University of Arizona, Shen holds two patents in vertical smart farming, expertise that was fundamental to the founding of AirTree.

The start-up’s logo is a white pyramid — the shape first used for aeroponics by astronauts — enclosed in rings with three stars, each of which represents an “S”: smart, safe and sustainable — AirTree’s core values.

The principle behind aeroponics is that plants receive optimal amounts of nutrients in the air, because their roots are not competing for nourishment in soil or water. By using air or mist as a delivery platform, aeroponics farms can control the amount of each nutrient that plants receive. Of course, the problem with such an approach is that the combination of nutrients for each type of plant must be precisely regulated and other growth parameters need to be meticulously studied and understood.

AirTree has conducted more than 300 plant growth tests to develop the dynamic parameters for its IoT aeroponics system, a truly smart solution programmed with the right combinations of moisture, nutrients and temperature to help more than 100 types of plants flourish. This process results in delicious, 100 percent organic produce completely free of pesticides and chemicals that are safe to eat right off the wall. Combined with aeroponics’ inherent advantages of accelerated growth and reduced nutrient and water usage, AirTree’s solution is extremely sustainable.

Establishing healthy partnerships for healthier cities

Taoyuan-based AirTree has made a name for itself in the local community and neighboring cities since it was founded in 2018. The company has partnered with local elementary schools to provide organic vegetables for students to have healthy lunches. At one point, AirTree was providing up to 20,000 servings of vegetables each day to the schools.

At the higher-education level, AirTree has worked with National Central University to deliver lectures on smart agriculture and related techniques, with the aim of inspiring a new generation of farmers who use technology to reduce their resource use.

AirTree has been in discussions with a foundation based in Taipei on establishing green roofs in the city. Modeled on the idea of community gardens and adapted to densely populated areas with very little free space, the green roofs would consist of an aeroponics farm in a container where residents can pluck a few leaves to use in their cooking. The long-term vision is to partner with large convenience chains to set up an aeroponics wall in each branch to serve customers with fresh organic produce daily.

Rapid growth leads to interest from international organizations

AirTree has been approached by several big multinational corporations about establishing large farms for them, Shen said.

As demand for future vegetables continues to grow, especially amid the COVID-19 pandemic, AirTree could become a household name, or at least a main supplier to one. These aerofarms provide a controlled environment with a smart IoT solution that makes any place in the world the right place to cultivate organic vegetables. With this technology, reliance on importing vegetables can be reduced to a minimum, thus minimizing the change of spreading the coronavirus in the process. The firm has been contacted by organizations in the US, Singapore, France and Japan about introducing and developing a deployment plan for its cutting-edge aeroponics system in those countries. AirTree has also been asked to present at the American Institute in Taiwan — the de facto US embassy — to educate interested professionals and academics about aeroponics.

Behind each knock on the door is the intention to be able to grow food smarter and better anywhere in the world, regardless of environmental or space constraints, Shen said.

Despite being an award-winning start-up, AirTree is as much about social good as it is about innovation. It has been looking for more land to install its containers and more farmers with whom to partner to enhance their businesses and revolutionize the important, traditional industry of agriculture.

Selling points:

  • Five to 10 times more productive than traditional farming methods
  • Completely integrated IoT solution
  • Reduces land, water and electricity use
  • Can avoid the use of pesticides by its tightly controlled environment
  • Help solving the problems of urban agriculture: irrigation problems、pesticides pollutants、climate changes and a lack of young farmers.
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