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DCE Magazine

Cultivating an Embedded Systems Career

Smart Farming is among the fast-growing segments in the embedded systems and Internet of Things (IoT) connected world.

Summer 2021

The digital revolution has transformed virtually every aspect of modern life, so it’s only natural that agriculture, one of the earliest elements of civilization, would be long overdue for a major upgrade – a new high-tech way to produce crops. Get ready for Smart Farms, sustainable indoor systems that cultivate the highest quality harvests in tightly controlled conditions.

Think hundreds of wireless, embedded sensors interfacing with Internet of Things (IoT) technology, monitoring and controlling every element of crop cultivation with the help of small drones, sealed off in hydroponic farm spaces. Smart Farms are increasingly popping up in abandoned urban spaces, producing bumper crops of fresh lettuce and other leafy greens.

Smart Farming is a lucrative field with strong growth potential, according to Rana Basheer, instructor in the UCI Division of Continuing Education (DCE) Embedded Systems Engineering certificate program and Co-Founder of the Irvine startup Edyza.

“At Edyza, we design Smart Farm systems for a number of clients in the U.S. as well as British Columbia and across Canada, where a lack of natural daylight and climate irregularities makes outdoor farming difficult,” he said. “Our clients grow medical-grade cannabis, lettuce, and leafy vegetables, which are all very well-suited for indoor farming.”

According to a recent report by Grand View Research, Inc., the Smart Farm (or precision agriculture) market is expected to reach $43 billion by 2025. Amazon is backing an indoor farming start-up called Plenty that invests in large-scale vertical farms. Several other companies, including Agrowatcher and Mothive, are emerging in the U.S. and worldwide.

Smart Farming is one of the most exciting sectors in the embedded systems field, which encompasses a wide range of applications. “Think of how interconnected your home is today,” Basheer said. “Embedded systems and IoT involve everything from home security to refrigerators and washing machines.”

UCI students are migrating to embedded systems engineering and design with great success, Basheer notes. DCE’s certificate program is designed to help open the door to this emerging sector.

High-tech ecosystems

With traditional outdoor farms, where vast acres of crops are subjected to the whims of nature, billions of dollars’ worth of product can be destroyed by drought, insect infestation and bacterial infection such as E. coli. Increasingly unpredictable weather patterns make it more challenging than ever.

By contrast, Smart Farming systems offer the ability for greenhouses to create a fully contained, sealed ecosystem operated entirely by 200 to 300 wireless sensors that communicate seamlessly. The farms are monitored with indoor drones that operate in conjunction with the sensor network, deploying seeds, spraying fertilizer, and collecting data on temperature, crop health and much more.

The entire system is visualized and monitored through a dashboard control that provides real-time data on every element of the operation. Smart Farms are so tightly controlled that humans are not even allowed inside the indoor ecosystems without biohazard suits and foot coverings.

“One of the biggest problems it eliminates is contamination from outside sources, which most commonly comes from workers and inspectors,” Basheer said. “Humans bring in bacteria and that can create these large-scale infections that result in recalls of lettuce and other produce.”

As a result, Smart Farming yields the highest quality crops with minimal waste, and each node is designed to be as energy efficient as possible. The system can also maximize use of relatively small spaces, a boon for urban farmers.

“Entrepreneurs are finding that empty spaces like malls are excellent for converting to Smart Farms,” Basheer said. “The typical indoor farm is about 1,500 to 2,000 square feet, but there are also much larger indoor-outdoor operations that have tightly contained greenhouses.”

“UCI students are migrating to embedded systems engineering and design with great success. DCE’s certificate program is designed to help open the door to this emerging sector.” Rana Basheer, Instructor

A smart career

The DCE Embedded Systems Engineering certificate program is designed for working professionals in the tech sector who are considering a career in the embedded systems or system-on-chip (SoC) fields. The fast proliferation of IoT systems has created great demand for embedded systems engineers and designers, and this program can help open the door for candidates seeking to specialize.

Experienced instructors lead students through a range of practical, hands-on courses that utilize industry automation tools and design kits. Basheer’s course, Motor Control Systems and Applications, allows students to learn theory and then test it against real, self-built motors. He decided to join the Embedded Systems program as an instructor in order to share his knowledge, help shape curriculum and groom the next generation for success.

Learn more about the Embedded Systems Engineering and Internet of Things (IoT) programs.