Team Agribon members, Rojan Alexei Granado and Jerico Wayne Bayod, showcase how their agricultural drone functions. The drone aims to reduce farm management costs, lessen the exposure of the farmers to pesticides, and reduce the risks when farming in sloped areas.
Team Agribon, Shell NXplorers 2019 winner, exhibited the creativity and ingenuity of young Filipino talent when it showcased its concept and plans for an AI-powered agricultural drone in the recent 2021 Japan Super Science Fair (JSSF). The student team from the Philippine Science High School – Cagayan Valley Campus also shared their knowledge in STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics) with other international students in the two-day event held in Kyoto, Japan. They were a part of a larger group of young talents invited by JSSF to discuss how to build novel strategies and technologies to address urgent challenges caused by the pandemic and global warming.
Jenshiam Balgua, Team Agribon’s teacher, spoke of their objective in joining the science fair: “To share the knowledge as widely as possible. Having been brought to a stage where the students can share their project with their peers, scholars from different schools, and panel experts, is the biggest step for our scholars. It is not just about promoting their project, but also boosting their confidence in [communicating] what they know and what they need, to a larger crowd.”
Team Agribon member, Rojan Granado, who handles electronics and programming, spoke of the learnings they received in the JSSF: “During 2/3rds of the science fair, we shared the project formally, and 1/3 was social interaction. There was formal sharing with professors from universities, and there were also mini-breakout rooms where we explained our project in detail with each of our groupmates.”
Team Agribon’s proposed innovation, an agricultural drone that can water and spray crops with fertilizers, is being developed into a device that can increase productivity among wide swaths of land on Filipino farms. It first got attention and won P50,000 as prize money for its inventors in the Shell NXplorers -The Bright Ideas Challenge (TBIC) 2019.
Sherwin Yap, Team Agribon’s mentor and Pilipinas Shell’s Real Estate Facilities Manager, gave his insight on what made this group unique: “They will be employing the most advanced technologies which are AI, machine learning, and robotics in the oldest industry in the world which is agriculture.”
Shell NXplorers is an educational program launched by Pilipinas Shell Petroleum Corporation to empower STEM students to become agents of positive change. To put their learnings to the test, the annual Shell NXplorers – TBIC tasks teams to present ideas that address Nexus problems in their community.
Machine learning for farming
During the 2019 NXplorers: Bright Ideas Challenge, Team Agribon wanted to create an agricultural machine that would cover the entire terrain to help in raising the efficiency in growing crops. They were spurred by the situation in Nueva Vizcaya, where vegetable output kept decreasing for various reasons, including the harsh effect of the rainy weather on the crops, and the mountainous terrain that limited the types of farm machinery that could be used. The common recourse of most farmers was to scatter-spray fertilizers and chemicals on the fields.
Team Agribon instead posed a new solution, a drone with AI vision technology that can precisely target only the areas that need to be sprayed with chemicals. Currently, the device is a prebuilt model that can follow a preprogrammed path. However, the team is implementing a precision farming method into their drone to better the crop yield and make the farming process more efficient.
The sprayer part will be controlled by an AI system that they developed themselves, accurately controlling the number of pesticides or water given to the plants. Some of the advantages of this process include reduction of farm management costs, lessened exposure of the farmers to pesticides, and reduced risks when farming in sloped areas.
To accelerate the development of Team Agribon’s project, Shell funded the purchase of a test drone to test the mechanical parts of the sprayer system. The monies will also finetune the AI into detecting the color of plants and determining the amount of payload to disperse.
“All the tools we learned in the NXplorers workshop—the feasibility tunnel, the connection circle, the scale quadrant—they were very useful tools because we were really able to narrow down the best options to utilize in increasing the crop yield in the Philippines, in relation to problems in food security,” said Team Agribon member Marein Angela dela Cruz who deals with the project’s agricultural aspects.
Despite the challenges COVID-19 has brought, Team Agribon remained productive since winning The Bright Ideas Challenge in 2019. “I think the main thing that changed is the flexibility in time because of COVID. Free time in the afternoon made it easier for us as a team to convene with each other and discuss what needs to be done,” said Team Agribon member Samantha Marie Gonzaga.
Pilipinas Shell and Team Agribon are currently working to build the drone completely and developing the AI software for the sprayer and camera to better discern the health of the plants and give them the substances they need for growth.