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Digital twin for underwater greenhouse startup

Technology News |
By Nick Flaherty

Digital twin software from Siemens is being used to develop an underwater greenhouse to grow fruit and vegetables.

A digital twin being developed by Italian startup Nemo’s Garden is helping designers to quickly iterate design and testing of the sustainable sub aqua biosphere.

The Xcelerator digital twin uses machine learning in the MindSphere system deployed to Industrial Edge computing devices for remote monitoring feeding back the process automation data into the design.

Nemo’s Garden was founded in 2021 by Sergio Gamberini, President of Italian scuba diving equipment manufacturer, the Ocean Reef Group, and his son, Luca Gamberini. A team of engineers, divers and scientists have been working to prove the viability of cultivating herbs, fruit and vegetables in an underwater greenhouse.

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The team has not only successfully harvested a variety of crops from its prototype biospheres, but also discovered that plants grown in this environment are nutritionally richer than those grown traditionally. The next big hurdle in achieving their goal was to turn this prototype into a solution that could be deployed globally.

Harsh winters, short summers and initial seafloor-use permit limitations capped Nemo’s Garden to one growth cycle a year, which has meant only one innovation cycle per annum. Design changes, lengthy physical testing and heavy manual monitoring processes during the growth cycle led the team to seek out ways to speed up their innovation and scale the operation.

“When I first saw Siemens’ digital twin technology, I was mesmerized. Nemo’s Garden is a one-of-a-kind system and we need to adapt to each environment where it is to be installed. If you can model that environment virtually before you start, you can foresee the challenges and address them in the best way,” said Luca Gamberini, Co-Founder of Nemo’s Garden.

“We have seen benefits in understanding the flow of water around the shapes of our biospheres. We have a greater understanding of the points of stress on the structure around the biospheres. We also understand how the different interactions of the solar radiation, the temperature and all the physical factors, act on the plants,” he said.

A comprehensive digital twin of the Nemo’s Garden biosphere covers the design evolution using Siemens’ NX software and enables simulation of the growing conditions within it, the impact of the equipment on the body of water, as well as the full environment in which they are installed. THi sis achieved with Siemens Simcenter STAR-CCM+ software.

This means Nemo’s Garden team are no longer limited by weather conditions, seasonality and short growing seasons or limitations on diving and monitoring. Adaptations to the biospheres can be tested in the virtual world, enabling the team to refine the design at a massively accelerated rate.

The team also needed to optimize and scale the processes for growing, tracking, and harvesting the plants without sending trained divers to collect data. Instead a fully digital, automated approach was created to automate traditional farming practices.

Existing video of the growing cycles along with reference data from traditional farming operations of the same target crops, at various growth stages and health conditions was analyzed using the MindSphere service. From this, Siemens was able to train a machine learning algorithm to monitor plant growth as well as the environmental conditions within the domes. 

When this algorithm is deployed onto edge computing devices in each biosphere, the plants can be monitored via a cloud-based dashboard throughout the season, from anywhere, in real time. Next season, these edge devices will be connected to actuators  to automatically adjust air circulation, humidity, irrigation and nutritional dosing throughout the whole season.

“Digitalization isn’t only for big companies, it is for all companies. In fact, great gains can often be realized in smaller or start-up companies. The work we do with startups can amplify the impact they have on the world, aiding in and speeding up innovation,” said Eryn Devola, Vice President of Sustainability, Siemens Digital Industries Software. “It is easy to get excited when you we find a passionate team with human-centred technology that is working to feed people while having a positive impact on the environment.”

siemens.com/software; www.nemosgarden.com/ 

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