Smart irrigation project highlighted during Queensland Chief Scientist's visit to CQUniversity

31 March 2021

Queensland's Chief Scientist and Rockhampton high schoolers discovered the secrets of smart irrigation during a recent tour of CQUniversity's Advanced Technology and Innovation Centre (ATIC).

Professor Hugh Possingham was a guest speaker at STEM Expo and toured the Coastal Marine Ecosystems Research Centre (CMERC) at the Gladstone Marina campus and also visited the ATIC and the Central Queensland Innovation Research Precinct (CQIRP) in Rockhampton.

During the visit CQUni's Plant Scientist Associate Professor Nanjappa Ashwath gave a demonstration of the project to Prof Possingham and some local school students.

"The school children got to know how irrigation in schools' parks' and in the paddocks can be controlled automatically using artificial intelligence to prevent excessive nutrients and chemicals going into Great Barrier Reef'" Assoc Prof Ashwath said.

"The students were also shown how to build a soil moisture sensor so they could build one at ATIC and take the device to their schools to monitor the water content of school gardens or parks."

"When we water the garden' only a fraction of the added water will be used by the plants. The most part will evaporate' or get lost into the gutter via runoff' or leaches into the soil to end up in local water bodies.

He said if the amount of moisture in the rooting zone can be measured' water usage can be minimised' and most importantly' chemicals leaching into Great Barrier Reef can be prevented.

Moisture sensors are installed in the soil at 10 cm and below (30-40 cm). These sensors will be monitoring soil moisture every 15 minutes. This information will be sent to our computer via the cloud and a computer algorithm takes into account the weather data' plant data' soil moisture changes and management requirement. It will then send a signal to the sprinkler when to irrigate and how long to irrigate.

"Sprinklers are connected to solenoids which will open and close the water supply to the sprinklers. The computer algorithm we have developed will control the operation of the solenoid'" he said.

"Most importantly' our algorithm collects data' and it learns from past operations. This memory will also be used every time it tries to irrigate.

"Based on our experience this system could easily save more than 10 per cent of the water used by any parks or gardens. The cost incurred will definitely outweigh the benefits."

This is a collaborative project between plant scientists' IT specialists and the industry partners. The researchers are: Assoc Prof Ashwath' Dr Biplob Ray' Dr Pramod Shrestha' Mr Varun Chandrappa and Nikhil Mungilwar. This project would be supported and continued by Wes Heberlein and STEM Central Lead Dr Linda Pfeiffer.