Monitor your crops
while you stay at home
The specific problem related to the environmental change that we are focusing on is the degradation of farmland and crops due to heavy rainfall events. The heavy rainfall events are one of the most prevalent and impactful effects of environmental change in Indiana, more so than drought. We also found that heavy rainfall events have a particularly detrimental impact upon farmland in Indiana, as they cause severe soil erosion and crop loss. Agriculture is one of the main drivers of Indiana’s economy, so degradation of farmland due to heavy rainfall is a significant problem.
Soiltor is the solution to our problem. The design direction we have chosen is a responsive geotextile that can be embedded into the soil and is the Internet of Things (IoT) based. We are proposing that the geotextile would be installed in the soil and wired with networked IoT weather sensors. The sensors in the fabric would be networked to a control center that is placed in the farmer’s residence. The control center would be a screen monitor display that is approximately the size of a tablet. The monitor would give them information about current weather patterns, as well as connect them with nearby farmers. The farmer’s control centers would be networked to each other via WiFi or LTE and by creating an account ID.
Timeline: 2 Months
User Research, Interviewing, Brainstorming, Sketching, Cognitive Evaluation, Prototyping, User Flows, UI Design, Usability Testing
Research and Interview Insights
Our team conducted primary and secondary research about environmental changes and their impact. While many issues with environmental policy can affect the public, there are some more direct problems that Indiana residents specifically face related to environmental change. The human problem we are addressing this challenge is that climate change is negatively impacting the quality and quantity of produce that is grown in Indiana affecting due to heavy rainfall.
To understand the existing scenario and condition of the Indiana’s farmland due to heavy rainfall, we conducted interviews with local women who grew up on a farm in Indiana, Indianapolis business manager who sells fermented vegetable products made from locally sourced produce that they buy directly from farmers, a local person working at indoor hydroponic growing farm. These interviews assisted us in learning surprising facts and gathering insights.
Key Findings from Interviews
- The continued rise in heavy rainfall events causes significant crop loss for farmers. Heavy rain events cause soil erosion, seed rot, poor germination rates, and mold, which makes crops unable to grow.
- This directly impacts farmers because it means they do not have a crop to sell, so they will not get any return on the investment made that year to grow crops, and no profit. It also impacts businesses who buy produce from farmers.
- Farmers sometimes have to implement replanting procedures to deal with the excess soil moisture caused by heavy rainfall, but this procedure is very expensive.
- Hydroponic farming is a good solution to environmental change, but not necessarily climate change. High-energy costs and initial investment makes it inaccessible for many people, including low-income communities. However, compared to industrial farming, costs are lower. It can be a solution on an individual level but does not help the existing farming industry.
In the competitive analysis of solutions, we found that a cover crop like rye can be planted in Winter to improve production outcomes. The study could not identify the changes in soil structure, pest, diseases and nutrient cycling that would occur from using cover crops over time. During the study conducted, a decrease in soil N2O emissions was observed and the use of a cover crop increased the prevention of soil erosion. Although cover crops could be a potential solution, the study also shows it is very challenging to design cover cropping systems that will improve future soil and water resources for irrigation. There could be benefit in investigating the advantages of increasing carbon dioxide, extending the growing seasons, and enhancing cover crop cultivars or mixing plant species.
Design Directions and Project Requirements
Key project Requirements
- The user needs a solution that can help them deal directly with how heavy rainfall can affect their crops, and more specifically soil erosion and water saturation.
- The user needs a solution that is integrated with the Internet to give them useful and meaningful data, in order to respond accordingly to unpredictable weather.
- The user needs to be able to connect with other farmers for help as needed, in case weather predicting systems are not accurate or for any additional help, as needed.
Defining key project requirements
Based on the user’s requirements, we determined two different personas to develop that represent the problems faced by our participants.
We ideated on 48 possible design directions, evaluated those ideas, and decided upon one design direction to proceed with. When generating the 48 ideas for design directions, we set up the criteria that they should be a social computing solution that would address degradation of farmland soil and crops due to heavy rainfall events.
We selected two scenarios to develop our storyboards, finally, after the storyboards, we were able to decide which functionality suits most of our scope and serves best to the users.
Selected Design Direction: Geotextile integrated with IoT and social computing control center (storyboard 1 and 2).
Designing initial interface
Our team performed the cognitive walkthrough using paper prototype and identified several issues related to consistency, design, visibility, and clarity in the information. We considered four scenarios and tested the functions as described below:
First, a user who wants to check the health status of their crops.
Second, user’s summary page where they could check the status of their crops.
Third, a user checking in with a farmer friend.
And, a fourth, user checking in by tapping on a friend’s avatar, it brings up a page with the health status of the friend’s crops.
Through these scenarios and a set of questions, our team came up with the following issues :
- Not aware of farmers actual needs.
- Discrepancy between what it seems should happen (screen for only the crop that was tapped) and what does happen (screen showing all crops).
- Less intuitive use of icons.
- No map view to get the actual feel of the farm.
- Farmers unable to create their choice of avatars (no personalization).
High Fidelity Prototype
Our prototype consists of a monitor and website designed individually. The monitor display is approximately the size of a tablet which is mounted on the wall and will act as a control center. The website would be helpful for the entire community to discuss or find agriculture/ farming related resources. We created a style guide for the user interface and finally designed the major screens which are shown below.
Below is the high fidelity prototype of the soiltor monitor.
Login and Basic information Process
Login screens to get started with the soiltor monitor and filling out some basic information about the user’s farms and the crops they grow.
Farm mapping and add friends
In the farm mapping screen, users can map out how their farm is placed in the setting up process. Also, this will be reflected on their dashboard. Adding friends process will help with social interaction and users to add friends to help them monitor their crops.
This page determines the crops health and further click on individual items to sell the items placed on the dashboard.
This is the summary page where a user can tap on a friends avatar and check the farmer friends activities.
Below is the high fidelity prototype of the soiltor website.
Web app focuses on the community aspect. Features include:
- Selling Crops
- Buying Crops
- Finding Farm Help
- Seeking Farm Jobs
- Chat Feature
- Log on to the application using email ID and answer some basic questions.
- Navigate to the user dashboard and sell tomatoes.
- Go to friends tab and check Hows Steffi’s farm is doing?
- Check for upcoming events on the web device.
We also asked them their experience of using our soiltor application and asked them the following questions below.
Questionnaire and Interview Summary
- Have you ever tried an application like Soiltor for farmers or are you aware of any that already exist?
- Do you think this would be an effective tool for addressing soil erosion?
- Overall, how easy and intuitive do you find Soiltor to understand and use?
- Were there any portions that were less intuitive to understand or use?
- If you could change one thing about Soiltor what would it be and why?
- What were the most positive aspects of Soiltor?
- Do you have any additional thoughts or suggestions?
Overall, they liked the visual elements used in both the device and the website. They thought the color scheme was visually appealing. After testing the monitor and web app, they felt that they would be a good product for farmers to have.
- Test whether it would be appropriate to scale the solution to bigger farms.
- Increase the community aspect.
- Learn more about how the sensors can get affected due to soil erosion.
- Come up with advanced technologies of using Soiltor for a greater purpose.