Combatting food scarcity with high-tech farming solutions

An EU-backed research team’s innovative precision agriculture business idea has won the first prize in the EIT Jumpstarter programme’s food category.

How secure is our food supply for the future? The search for an answer to this question led a team from Spanish data network research institute IMDEA Networks to create LiFi4Food, a start-up that provides solutions for digital and precision agriculture. The research team’s innovative business idea earned it the top prize in the food category of the European EIT Jumpstarter programme, a milestone they reached thanks to the experience and training received under the EU-funded ENLIGHTEM project. EIT Jumpstarter is run by different cross-border partnerships formed by leading business, education and research organisations under the umbrella of the European Institute of Innovation and Technology (EIT). The goal is to help early-stage innovators and entrepreneurs from emerging European regions to turn their ideas into successful businesses. The prize that the IMDEA Networks team won is valued at EUR 10 000, which will be dedicated to creating the start-up.

Why LiFi4Food?

“LiFi4Food aims to address the challenge of food scarcity by promoting food production in high-tech agri-food facilities such as vertical farms and greenhouses,” explains IMDEA Networks PhD student and start-up co-founder Dayrene Frómeta in a ‘EurekAlert!’ news release. “From LiFi4Food we want to provide these facilities with battery-free IoT [Internet of things] devices with sensors and actuators to help them operate these farms in a more efficient and sustainable way.” The start-up uses LiFi wireless communication technology to connect battery-free sensors to the internet, providing sustainable solutions for precision agriculture. Its communication system is formed by self-sustainable and battery-free IoT devices that monitor and control parameters in high-tech agri-food facilities such as vertical farms, greenhouses and aquaponics farms. LiFi4Food uses the light-emitting diode lamps already installed in these facilities to deploy a LiFi network that supplies the battery-free solar cell-powered sensors with both power and data. By transferring operation to the visible light band, the start-up’s LiFi technology eases the problem of radio frequency spectrum saturation encountered in 6G networks. LiFi4Food aims to make agri-food facilities more sustainable by lowering CO2 emissions and eliminating the use of hazardous materials. “We also promote food production close to the consumer, which will reduce CO2 emissions due to food transportation. In addition, the vast amount of data collected by our system will increase the traceability of food production systems and thus the trust that consumers place in them,” states Frómeta in the news item. The LiFi4Food system will also make the operation of agri-food facilities more efficient and reduce operating costs. “Our IoT devices will be distributed among the crops to continuously measure parameters such as temperature, humidity or Ph. This data will be sent to our servers and presented to the end user in our LiFi4food app, so they can also communicate with the IoT devices to, for example, take a measurement or activate actuators or the irrigation system,” explains the PhD student. Automating tasks and optimising resource use will result in reduced energy, lighting, water and labour costs as well as enhanced production yields and higher quality crops. Overall, the aim of ENLIGHTEM (European Training Network in Low-energy Visible Light IoT Systems) is to train young researchers and provide them with the know-how to contribute to the development of the IoT in 5G and beyond. The project ends in December 2023.



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