IMAGINE being able to grow healthy crops with the touch of a button on your smartphone.
This is what Ewan Pitter, a third-year engineering student at the University of the West Indies (UWI) envisions, and he has been working at it for almost a year.
Pitter, 25, on Thursday, unveiled the prototype of a Renewable Energy-Driven Microcontroller-Based Fully Automated and Controlled Hydroponics Greenhouse System — the flagship item of UWI’s 14th staging of the annual Research Days.
The system — a miniature hydroponics greenhouse, powered by solar energy, and linked to the Internet — allows its user to maintain the quality of crops from anywhere in the world using a laptop or smartphone.
Anything, from injecting the appropriate amount of nutrients to regulating the acidity of the hydroponics solution, can be done with the touch of a button, Pitter bragged, adding that his invention has the potential to revolutionise farming.
“After I finish this, I plan to put in more work, more improvement; I want to take it from the school level to different parts in the Caribbean,” said Pitter, whose project was selected as the best among his 18 classmates’.
Hydroponics, the growing of plants without soil, is not new in Jamaica, neither are Internetbased remote control systems, but the combination of the two, Pitter said, can offer many opportunities for regional development.
It is for this reason that the project is most fitting for this year’s Research Days theme: ‘Pathways and Opportunities for Regional Development’, he noted.
“I hope that it (invention) will actually change farming, and I hope that people will accept the technology and try to utilise this type of farming,” said Pitter.
“Because to be out there in the sun bending down can destroy your health and it is time-consuming to prepare landscape.
So this is an easier way.” Pitter, who hails from “both Manchester and Clarendon”, earns his university tuition fee by working as a maintenance technician at Kingston Container Terminal Engineering Department.
It is a job he enjoys, as electronics has always been his passion, he said.
On Friday, Pitter demonstrated how the machine, a combination of tubes, electronic devices, wires, and pipes, caters to crops of broccoli and parsley.
According to the Pitter, investors have already expressed an interest in his invention.
On Friday, Dr Paul Aiken, deputy dean of engineering, dispelled criticisms that the project paled in comparison to last year’s revolutionary UWI Cardiac Surgery Simulator — a machine that recreates ‘reallife’ surgery scenarios using a pig’s heart and artificial blood.
“Every year there is a research theme.
Last year the research theme explored health and wellness.
This year we have an overarching theme, but for this faculty it is energy, security and sustainability,” he explained.
“Sustainability involves our agricultural sectors.
So what we have here is a renewable energy-driven sustainable form of agriculture.
“So compared to last year, the sensation for this is not the breath-taking because people have seen hydroponics systems before, but believe me, people are interested,” he said, adding that, with the implementation of closed-circuit cameras, the system could be a solution to praedial larceny, which has been a major concern to Jamaican farmers.
Among the other items touted by the university this year is an automated speech recognition system capable of bolstering independence for the aged and disabled.
The technology, said Dr Andre Coy from the Department of Science and Technology, allows its user to control household gadgets, such as televisions, radios, and lamps using voice commands.
“Many elderly persons are unable to do things for themselves, they are unable to turn off their televisions, turn off their lights, and they would always need someone to care for them, to give them assistance.
But with this technology they are able to do things for themselves and to improve their quality of life,” he said, adding that the project has not yet garnered any interest from potential investors.
Among the other items on display was a solar-powered testing system, and a research outline that posited that transrectal ultrasound alone cannot accurately differentiate between men with or without prostate cancer.
The research asked that medical officials discourage the practice of requesting “this invasive investigations”.