How a Liverpool developed smart sensor is encouraging cost-effective food production

Farm Urban, a business born out of the Life Sciences Department at the University of Liverpool is boosting efficiency in food production across the Liverpool City Region with its new smart sensor.

The company, which links leading scientific research with local food production, installs and manages innovative, high-tech urban farms to produce low cost food in a sustainable and cost-effective way.  Specialising in testing and developing efficient ways of growing food to combat issues in society such as rising energy and food costs, the company worked with business support programme LCR 4.0 and delivery partner the Virtual Engineering Centre (VEC) to pioneer the prototype sensor system.

When attached to an ecosystem, the new sensor monitors environmental variables such as light levels, temperature, and atmospheric pressure. The sensor then tracks the changes through a connected online server which displays how the plants are changing. This enables urban farmers to visualise the process and analyse the data to optimise crop yields and quality.

The collaboration with LCR 4.0 – which is part funded by the European Regional Development Fund (ERDF) – saw Farm Urban employ Internet of Things (IoT) technologies to develop the prototype, that helps farmers decide which environments are best to grow and source food in a sustainable way.

The work with the VEC also provided Farm Urban with the source code and relevant documentation to help with future development of the prototype.

Dr. Jens Thomas, Co-founder of Farm Urban said: “Agri-tech is a very new area and there is scope for sensor development to influence how it is shaped in the future. With support from LCR 4.0 and the VEC, we have been able to push the boundaries of agri-tech by taking the latest thinking in aquaponics and life science and integrate Industry 4.0 technologies.

“The programme has accelerated our initial concept, and we are now one step closer to our goal of developing scalable urban agriculture.”

Dr. Andy Levers, Technical Director at the Virtual Engineering Centre (University of Liverpool) and technical lead for LCR 4.0 said: “It’s fantastic to see companies like Farm Urban, approaching LCR 4.0 for the resources and expertise needed to fuel their innovative ideas. We’re thrilled to be able to support a project that benefits our society in such a sustainable way.

“Farm Urban is unlike any company we have helped before, and the work carried out highlights perfectly how industry 4.0 technologies can be deployed in all sectors.”

Farm Urban visits schools across the Liverpool City Region to educate youngsters about the concept of urban farming and the future of sustainable food production.

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