Agribusiness is Georgia’s number one industry, and is important across the Southeast at large. But with a projected 70 percent of the world’s population condensing in urban areas by the year 2050 — not to mention the effects of a warming world — the forward-thinking are looking towards farming innovations that can work within cities.
Last year, the Metro Atlanta Chamber, Invest Atlanta, and a host of partner organizations announced the IoT.ATL AgTech Challenge, aimed at bringing tech-enabled solutions to farming and food production under the umbrella of making Atlanta a “smart city.”
The Challenge sought startups from all over the country, dangling the chance to test their solution in connected “living labs” along the highly-trafficked Atlanta BeltLine.
This week, nine startups were announced as program participants, and honored in a ceremony where the first living lab was opened next to Piedmont Park.
The installed labs — five in total — will host projects ranging from connected insect farms to wind- and solar-powered aquaponics to plant data analysis.
The AgTech Challenge is the first large-scale project from the IoT.ATL initiative, a group of stakeholders from the public and private ecosystems that came together in 2017. The Challenge was spearheaded by MAC and partners including the City of Atlanta, Invest Atlanta, the Atlanta BeltLine, Georgia Power (a subsidiary of Southern Company), and more.
Agriculture equipment manufacturer AGCO provided the shipping containers the labs will be built within, and New City Properties served as the real estate partner.
Cynthia Curry, MAC’s Director of IoT/AI/Smart Cities, kicked off the ceremony, followed by representatives from each of the stakeholder groups.
“The Demonstration Project program is where we look at how we can use city resources in a way where we are helping entrepreneurs,” said Dr. Eloisa Klementich, President and CEO of Invest Atlanta.
Several of the speakers highlighted how the purpose of the program was not only to foster technology innovation, but to help develop scalable solutions to making the city more equitable. As urban density increases, so does pressure for resources like food, water, and land.
“A smart city isn’t smart if it can’t feed its people,” said Klementich.
“It’s not that these technologies are not for equity, it’s just that you don’t often have an explicit line item that says it,” said Amol Naik, Atlanta’s Chief Resiliency Officer. “So we have to call it out, and that’s what we’re doing here.”
Noelle London, Invest Atlanta’s Assistant Director of Innovation and Entrepreneurship, shared that though they were originally seeking six startups, they have accepted nine — eight from Georgia and one originally from New York.
“We’re ready to scale up,” said Akissi Stokes, founder of smart edible insect farm startup WUNDERGrubs, “but we want to engage the community with us. We want to put our farm locally, have kids work in it, install the sensors, have them see what they can do with their own work.” Her insect farm will be located in a shipping container on Atlanta’s Westside.
The AgTech pilots will run for 12 months, after which IoT.ATL will begin sourcing for a new Challenge.
Meet the startups:
- HATponics and HipScience — these two startups will create a near-zero input farm facility that will become a model to help alleviate food deserts, enhance STEM education and provide additional revenue streams for the food desert populations. HATponics’s portable wind- and solar-powered hybrid aquaponics farm will be outfitted with IoT programming and sensors staffed by aviation drones, while HipScience will implement an intelligent farming system.
- Grow Computer and Copiana — Grow Computer’s patent-pending IoT ecosystem will provide real-time controls and information about what’s happening inside the container, while Copiana will serve as the boots-on-the-ground agriculture experts.
- MUSCAH, Urban Sprout Farms, and Yogardener — Urban Sprout Farm’s AgTech Command Center is equipped with the most up-to-date remote sensing technology. The demo site will showcase how urban farming can integrate big data into food production with efficient alternative housing and sustainable design.
- WUNDERGrubs — This insect farm will incorporate IoT technology to harvest insects as a micro-livestock, which then be manufactured into tasty, healthy food products.
- Ponix — Ponix is focused on reclassifying food as a utility, like water or electricity, by developing solutions for end-to-end local food ecosystems. Ponix will demo its solution in a farm that will grow produce year-round, controlled from a web or mobile device through PonixOS.