Performing Advance Irrigation Scheduling for Sustainable Agriculture Using LabVIEW and NI Single-Board RIO

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"The versatility and ease-of-use of LabVIEW made this platform the clear choice for our technology development. NI, one of the world leaders in measurement technology, provided us the credentials we needed to assure our customers that they were acquiring accurate field data. "

- Hari D. K, FluxGen Engineering Technologies

The Challenge:
Developing a system that provides research-quality data on the weather and key soil parameters and can intelligently irrigate a target agricultural field under appropriate conditions, which saves water, electricity, and manpower.

The Solution:
Using the NI USB-6008, NI sbRIO-9641, and NI LabVIEW system design software to build a research and development system that provides high-quality logs of weather and soil moisture data, as well as automatic irrigation scheduling for the soil and crop chosen.

Author(s):
Hari D. K - FluxGen Engineering Technologies
Ganesh Shankar - FluxGen Engineering Technologies
Tejas Kumar - FluxGen Engineering Technologies
Lokesh Voleti - FluxGen Engineering Technologies

Fluxgen, a start-up company based in Bangalore, India, develops technology for renewable energy, rural electrification, and sustainable agriculture. For this project, we worked with a researcher with many years of practical experience in water and agriculture who wanted to address the problem of providing optimal irrigation for agricultural fields in rural India.

In the past few years, we have seen large migrations from the rural to the urban areas of India as the country has developed. This has led to a shortage of agricultural manpower in rural India, a region which is essential for the country’s food security. Automating some agricultural tasks in a sustainable and scientific way could address the manpower shortage and also lead to decreased water and electricity use and increased crop yields. We used NI technology to provide our customer with an R&D platform to implement proof-of-concept of this system. Based on data collected using this equipment, a low-cost commercial version of the system will be designed and sold to Indian farmers.

The system consists of a precision weather station, NI data acquisition hardware, soil moisture sensors, and programs developed with NI LabVIEW software .

Our software runs continuously on the customer’s PC. It captures weather parameters including relative humidity, ambient temperature, solar irradiation, rainfall, wind direction, wind speed, and the soil moisture at various depths and locations in the field. The software also knows the properties of the particular soil type (for example, loam or clay) and crop (for example, wheat or potatoes) in the target field (Figure 2). Based on this, the system determines whether to irrigate the field and, if so, for how long. It also provides high-quality logs of weather and soil data from the field to any authorized user connected to the Internet.

The algorithm it uses currently for irrigation is the following:

The soil moisture probes return the moisture level in the soil. If it falls below a certain lower threshold, which depends on soil and crop type, the irrigation valve opens and water flows into the field. This continues until the moisture level crosses an upper threshold, at which point the valve closes and water flow stops.

This system includes multiple moisture sensors as well as weather data, so we can modify the algorithm to make it more robust or more sensitive to local conditions. Having high-quality data available on multiple parameters means we can make good design decisions when building a versatile, low-cost commercial version of this technology for rural India. For example, we can change the irrigation algorithm to account for the rainfall and solar radiation over the past few days. The former increases the soil moisture while the latter reduces it due to water evaporation. We can use this data to make the algorithm more aware of soil moisture sensor misplacement or failure. The flexibility of LabVIEW system design software makes it easy to develop and deploy new irrigation algorithms in the field.

For the first implementation of this project, which ran on the university campus where our customer is a professor, we used an NI USB-6008 DAQ device to interface with the irrigation valve and the soil moisture sensors. For the next implementation, we will install the system at a more remote rural location. We will not have a PC, so we plan to port the code to the NI sbRIO-9641 embedded device and run it as a standalone application. Past experience with the well-designed NI software framework showed us that this is a simple and intuitive task. For example, we can access the weather station over a serial port. Porting this code from a PC to an embedded device the conventional way would be an involved and difficult effort. Using NI tools (specifically NI-VISA in this case), we only need to change a single line in the LabVIEW block diagram of the code and deploy it to the real-time target on the sbRIO-9641.

We used NI hardware and software to quickly provide our customer with a simple, versatile, and accurate system. The versatility and ease-of-use of LabVIEW made this platform the clear choice for our technology development. NI, one of the world leaders in measurement technology, provided us the credentials we needed to assure our customers that they were acquiring accurate field data. The most important features of LabVIEW that we relied on were the signal processing/math functions, the ease of multitasking (for example, running DAQ and user interfaces in parallel), and the hassle-free deployment across targets. Also, the first thing we do on a new project is send a functional mock-up of the user interface  to the customer. We found the LabVIEW front panel/block diagram approach to development to be immensely useful for this.

It would be impossible for us to develop such a complex solution in such a short time without NI technology. The system we developed using NI hardware and software will provide good data for many more research projects related to renewable energy, water, and agriculture. It offers students at the university where it is installed the chance to work on real data from the field. The data may find its way into academic publications. It will certainly be used to perfect and commercialize this technology at the lowest possible unit cost. All this activity should ultimately benefit the rural Indian farmer, who is usually underserved and ignored by technology.

We got a lot of help while executing this project from NI applications engineers, who provided us with valuable support on everything ranging from screen resolution to transmission line effects on sensor cables. We are also grateful to the Planet NI program for their technology funding, which made this work possible.

Editor Contact: 
Anita Shekhar
National Instruments
Email: planetni@ni.com

Author Information:
HariD. K
FluxGen Engineering Technologies
Bangalore
India

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