I want to develop a device that can monitor the nutritional status of vegetables during cultivation. Tokyo University of Science (Noda City, Chiba Prefecture) Faculty of Science and Engineering students conduct demonstration experiments using electrical engineering and information and communication technology (ICT) at a farm in Tokyo’s Katsushika Ward. If realised, it can be expected to significantly improve the efficiency of agricultural work and solve the shortage of farmers. The aim is “Urban Smart Agriculture”. Officials are paying special attention. (Riko Ota)
A field in a corner of a residential area on the south side of Keisei Takasago Station. In late July, Mayu Okajima, 24, a first-year undergraduate student at the university, was attaching small squares of aluminum foil to the leaves of eggplants growing in a field. Aluminum foil, designed to allow weak currents to pass through, is connected to devices that transmit electricity through cables and laptop computers. Numbers are recorded one after the other on a computer screen, Uchida said.
In this experiment, students investigate how the conditions for vegetables that grow well and those that grow poorly due to malnutrition differ numerically.
A weak alternating current signal is passed, and electrical resistance and other values indicative of flow conditions are measured. Using the same system as a body composition meter that measures body fat percentage in humans, students change the frequency and note the difference in values depending on the variety and growth of the vegetables. If the difference is clear, it can be assumed that the missing nutrients can be identified. It analyzes the excess and deficiency of moisture depending on the temperature and climate.
The trial began this spring as a joint project between Katsushika Ward, the university and a local JA. In the ward, Japanese mustard lettuce and tomato are mainly grown in the eastern part of the ward, but due to settlement and lack of successors, the area of cultivated land is shrinking, currently totaling 35 hectares.
A ward official said, “Our challenge is to increase the productivity of urban farms, which are full of narrow farmlands, and ensure profitability.”
In parallel with their experiments, the students are developing measuring devices that are inexpensive, easy to use, and resistant to weather and pesticide sprays. In the future, the plan is to connect it to a smartphone so that the nutritional status of vegetables can be monitored remotely.
Okajima emphasized, “Because there is little previous research, we are still trying to find our way, but we hope that science and technology will at least reduce the burden on farmers.”
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