Inventors: Ben Woodington, Elena Schaefer, Katie Gibson & Douglas van Niekerk, CDT in Sensor Technologies & SoliCamb

Global efforts in soil health management are increasing but remain a major challenge. Limitations of existing tests and the need for laboratory equipment hinders the ability to instill management practices to improve soil health rapidly and effectively.

In collaboration with an environmental organisation in South Africa, SoliCamb has developed a suite of low-cost soil health sensors to assess the effectiveness of land restoration activities. These include sensors that measure pH, nitrates, soil respiration and moisture content. The system is complimented by data storage and visualization software to enable users to work with and interpret data from the suite of sensors.

The i-Teams project will focus on a multi-depth moisture retention probe that maps the spatial and temporal moisture profile of land. Initial conversations with environmental charities and Agritech companies have suggested that monitoring the moisture profile over a certain area would have profound benefits to agriculture, land management and conservation especially within water restricted areas. This could be achieved either by using multiple probes to implement a smart irrigation system to manage and reduce water usage, or to monitor the land’s ability to retain water and to track the ‘health’ of the land.

Currently, the moisture probe requires a user to be involved with the testing of a particular site; however, SoliCamb is developing a remote sensing platform, which could be left in the ground and which would either upload live multi-level moisture information to a database or allow a user to collect data from sample points using a smartphone or similar device. The price of the unit is low, currently below £20; however, the price may increase should SoliCamb decide to implement more sophisticated hardware such as enabling remote data transfer.

The question for the i-Team is to investigate whether there is an appetite for such a system in the developing world, starting with smallholder farmers but also looking at other possible users and applications for the sensor. The i-Team will need to recommend which countries and types of communities would benefit most, and also identify whether the platform could offer tangible economic, health or other benefits.