As a part of our Q&A series, we highlight outstanding projects running on Blynk and discuss the challenges real businesses face in the fast-evolving IoT space.
Today we are interviewing Jagath Ekanayake, a New Zealand engineer with an impressive background, who is building innovative IoT-enabled solutions for agriculture.
Jagath Ekanayake constructed a wireless soil sensor network on his living room table. Then he bore dozens of holes in his front yard to bury and test each sensor. Now his product, Infiltrometer, pinpoints terrain that can deliver high yield crops with minimal fertilizer, preserving New Zealand’s unique biodiversity.
Scientist and inventor at Landcare Research Institute in New Zealand
– Jagath, please tell our readers a little bit about yourself.
I studied civil engineering in Sri Lanka, later got a PHD in natural resources engineering and have been a Chartered Member of the Institution of Professional Engineers of New Zealand for over 25 years. I’m also an elected member of American Society of Civil Engineers (ASCE) and hold 4 patents, two of which have been successfully commercialized. The latter includes my Infiltrometer product which runs on BLYNK. I have sound knowledge of soil physics, civil engineering (design and construction of irrigation canals, concrete bridges, soil mechanics, and slope stability), and very limited knowledge in electronics, and instrument design.
– What inspired you to build Infiltrometer?
My primary purpose was to allow farmers to manage their irrigation more efficiently and minimise their environmental footprint (pollution). Knowing the infiltration rates allows to irrigate efficiently and to build models that accurately represent the flow of water in the landscape. So finding a good way to measure infiltration is critical.
This inspired me to develop a cloud-connected, smartphone-driven, infiltration-
measuring device network.
Infiltration rate is determined by measuring the water seeping into the soil while maintaining a constant water head over the measuring area. The electronics are designed to monitor and maintain the constant water head and measure the rate of water infiltration. Our Blynk-powered smartphone app allows to monitor and interact with the infiltrometer.
The app is free and you can check it out on Appstore or Google Play .
– How did you go about selecting tools / technologies for your project?
I was desperate to build customized smartphone apps, but I didn’t have the proper knowledge to do that until I came across Blynk. Blynk is the ideal platform to build smartphone apps for a person like me who doesn’t have in-depth software programming skills.
I have used Blynk to develop many smartphone applications. Most of the instruments I developed were used to measure soil moisture content and collect samples. Since I came across Blynk my research and instrument development work got a huge boost. My company loved the smartphone apps I have been developing for farmers to interact with their instruments. So, my main tools are Arduino and Blynk.
– What were some of your biggest challenges in getting from the idea stage to launch?
The biggest challenge was creating a user interface, preferably on a smartphone. Farmers should be able to check the current soil moisture level from anywhere without going to her/his office computer. This where the miracle Blynk came to rescue. Everybody loved the app I developed using Blynk for the infiltrometer and other instruments.
– What would you advise other entrepreneurs like yourself?
Don’t be afraid to try simple examples to see how easy it is to develop very complex smartphone apps with minimum effort. I have been using a small demo made by Blynk to surprise and show how easy it is to make smartphone apps when I visit young electronic enthusiasts in other research organisations in the world. I installed a small sprinkler, LED light and IP camera in my home garden and used the following Blynk app to trigger the sprinkler, switch the LED if it is night time and watch all the drama over the IP camera.
Remote Switch to reboot the gateway. We use wireless sensor networks to measure and record soil moisture and soil temperature data in catchment over 40 Km2. Gateways are in very remote places where access is very difficult. In case of a malfunction it would be very useful to be able to reboot the system remotely. Blynk comes to the rescue again.
– What’s next? Any new projects in mind?
Since the discovery of Blynk, the sky is the limit for my instrument design. I am working on a new project to design “Cloud connected Smartphone driven Drainage Fluxmeter Network’. Will be happy to share more in a future post!