Across developed markets, large consolidated land holdings and expensive labour make a strong economic case for deploying precision agricultural technologies. With productivity levels amongst the highest in the world, farmers in developed markets are increasingly reliant on precision agriculture to drive down cost. The potential to deploy similar technologies on farms across emerging markets is vast since yields are low relative to global standards and rural labour costs continue to appreciate steadily. Rising water scarcity in India has been a well-documented subject and current levels of groundwater extraction are unsustainable. In 2015, Keedagro conducted several feasibility studies across farms in India to assess the viability of precision irrigation products but soon realised that fragmentation in the sector and limited internet connectivity are both hindrances for large scale penetration. Our results supported the development of a low-cost wireless soil moisture sensing prototype.
After initially building an Arduino-based conceptual prototype, we commenced our search for an engineering team in possession of a similar body of work to build a functional prototype. We were introduced to several development agencies and browsed freelancing sites before we came across Formilab. They had already worked on a project similar to ours and demonstrated this during our initial consultations. After shortlisting a pool of several candidates, we eventually assigned the project to Formilab because of past experience, a competitive pricing schedule and their evident passion towards the project.
The first functional prototype was built within two months and completed by February 2016, a week ahead of schedule. During this phase we participated in weekly conference calls with Formilab, the dialogue was dynamic since they proactively offered suggestions to improve the prototype. Formilab designed and built a circuit with configurable firmware that was later tested on a farm in India. The results were encouraging and it was inspiring to see our idea come to life in such a short space of time. Our initial tests confirmed the functional efficacy of the prototype but it still required further development work before commercial deployment. We welcomed input from Formilab for further improvements but stated that the next iteration should be viable for commercial trials. After several consultations about the nature of work to be undertaken for the second iteration, we agreed on a set of milestones and Formilab began development work in April 2016.
The second development phase took longer than the first as Formilab spent time conducting research trials to optimise power consumption and resolution of the sensor. They managed to enhance the accuracy of our sensor by tenfold, a phenomenal result given the time budget we assigned. The power circuitry was optimised to prolong the discharging cycle of the batteries used. Formilab also recoded the firmware to make the prototype remotely configurable. The second development phase took approximately three months. The end result was a trial-ready prototype built with a DFM approach. During this period, Formilab was happy to dynamically iterate according to our evolving commercial and technical requirements. Even after the prototypes were handed over, Formilab provided ongoing assistance to Keedagro to ensure the prototypes had no unknown faults.
Image courtesy of Keedagro
The decision to pursue our prototyping project with Formilab was a well guided one as they delivered beyond our expectations and at critical junctures provided the vital inputs to bridge gaps in our technical understanding at Keedagro. The three-man team comprises complimentary skillsets that facilitated accelerate the development work. Formilab’s commercial awareness is strong – they’ve built a prototype that not only works well but is economically feasible for medium-sized emerging market farmers. Should we expand our product offering, we will look no further than Formilab to lead prototype development.
Currently, we are in the process of conducting commercial trials for our product.
Director/Co Founder at Keedagro