Software Engineering students shine at AgriNXT 2023 Tech Challenge

From left: Dr Sugumaran, Lee and Phang

Lee Kong Chian Faculty of Engineering and Science (LKC FES) Bachelor of Science (Honours) Software Engineering students Phang Jun Sen and Lee Chee Jian triumphed in the academia challenge track at the AgriNXT 2023 Tech Challenge.

Under the guidance of LKC FES academic Ts Dr Sugumaran Nallusamy, the duo showcased their digital solutions in agricultural innovation, enabling the potential emergence of novel digital technologies in Malaysia’s agriculture industry, which could effectively optimise local agricultural operations. For their innovative take on Malaysia’s agricultural challenges, the duo was awarded RM25,000.

The AgriNXT 2023 Tech Challenge was organised by Malaysian Communications and Multimedia Commissions (MCMC), in collaboration with Bioeconomy Corporation and the Ministry of Agriculture and Food Security of Malaysia on 12 December 2023 at MCMC Academy, Cyberjaya. The academia challenge track saw the participation of ten universities, including UTAR.

Phang and Lee were tasked with addressing the problem statement “Labour intensive and inefficient practices in aquaculture industry”. The duo proposed a system in which the aquafarmers could monitor the water at any moment. The system development was part of their project titled “IoT-based Water Quality Monitoring: A Foundation for Optimal Aquaculture Management”. The system features IoT (Internet of things) functionalities, allowing users to monitor real-time data collected from the sensor such as water parameter reading for dissolved oxygen, pH, temperature, and ammonia level via a mobile application. Besides data collection, the mobile application also allows users to record activities such as water changing and tank cleaning. The users will be alerted when the water parameter falls beyond the safety range. Not to mention, the data collected in the system can be analysed to discover trends, which serve as useful information for the aquaculture sector.

The duo explained that the real-time monitoring serves as a proactive approach to actively prevent detrimental scenarios, including aeration failures and algae blooms, which could potentially lead to fish kill events. “Looking ahead, we envision a system that boasts enhanced user-friendliness; incorporates a diverse array of sensors; and offers the ability to detect an even wider spectrum of potential issues. Our ambition is to make a significant contribution to Malaysia’s flourishing aquaculture sector for a positive impact on the economy and food production,” said the duo about their future plans for the system.

Some components used in the prototype of the IoT water monitoring system

The system provides data of the water parameter and activity analysis on a mobile screen

Both Phang and Lee expressed their keen interest in utilising their digital expertise for the benefit of society. Phang said, “I hope to be able to use the knowledge I learned at UTAR to help people. I accepted the final year project suggestion by Dr Sugumaran to develop a water quality monitoring app, which aimed to address labour intensive and inefficient practices in an aquaculture farm because I was looking for opportunities to make a useful contribution to society with the knowledge I learned. We worked hard to complete this project as it brings innovation to the agriculture sector. As our project grew, Dr Sugumaran saw potential in it and invited us to participate in the AgriNXT 2023 Tech Challenge.”

Meanwhile, Lee said, “I have a deep interest in the transformative power of technology across industries. Upon discovering the issues aquafarmers encounter in monitoring water parameters, I recognised the opportunity to utilise my expertise in sensor technology and data analysis. This project allows me to bring innovation to the table and thus contribute significantly to the progress of sustainable aquaculture.”

Phang giving a concise presentation on his team’s solution during the tech event

When asked about their afterthought of the tech event, the duo expressed their passion towards the project as well as gratitude towards others who helped them along the journey. Phang enthused, “We not only had the ideas ready, but also the real prototypes of the system. To understand this issue thoroughly, we even tried to conduct a case study on a real-life aquaculture farm. We then developed a prototype that utilises cutting-edge technologies such as IoT to monitor water parameters in real time, which successfully helped the aquaculture farm to improve its operations.”

He added, “I am delighted that my hard work paid off. I am also grateful to Dr Sugumaran for his guidance and Chee Jian for his efforts in getting us to this point. I would like to thank UTAR for lending us the equipment and environment to conduct this research. Besides, I would like to give special thanks to Dr Ng Oon Ee, Dr Kwan Ban Hoe, and the students from the Department of Mechatronics and Biomedical Engineering for helping us in figuring out the assembly of the hardware components.”

Lee enthused, “I believe that by continuing to improve, we can reach even greater heights, and contribute meaningfully to the agriculture sector. We hope to inspire a collective effort towards a future of sustainable food, where technology empowers us to overcome challenges and build a resilient food system.”

He added, “I am grateful for this victory. None of this would have been possible without the guidance and support from Dr Sugumaran, who provided mentorship for our success. I also want to extend my deepest appreciation to my teammate, Jun Sen, who contributed a lot of effort in achieving this milestone.”

AgriNXT 2023 Tech Challenge

AgriNXT 2023 Tech Challenge aimed to discover more innovative solutions to the challenges faced by the nation’s agriculture industry by seeking inputs from innovative talents in industry and academia. The tech event also aimed to showcase the essential technologies to help digitalise the country’s agriculture industry and empower farmers to optimise their operations, enhance productivity, and achieve sustainable practices. It featured two tracks, namely the academia challenge track and the industry challenge track. The winners of each track were given the opportunity to showcase their solutions at the upcoming Malaysia Agriculture, Horticulture and Agrotourism (MAHA) 2024.

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